BROWNS SUMMIT — A heralded season for Gray Stone Day was capped off impressively on Saturday as the Knights notched their first-ever NCHSAA 1A boys soccer championship in a 3-1 state title game win over Hobbton.
Playing in MacPherson Stadium in Browns Summit, the Knights (21-2-2) rallied from an early 1-0 deficit to post three unanswered goals on the Wildcats (23-4-1) en route to a championship trophy.
Gray Stone was able to successfully contain and pace a surging Hobbton team that entered the day on an 11-game win streak
“These guys have battled all year long,” Gray Stone coach Bradley Harrington said after his team’s state title victory. “Having Desmond (Bullard) and the other ten seniors on our team, they had a bad taste in their mouth after our third-round exit last year in the playoffs. They’ve seen the state championship level before. As freshmen and sophomores, they played against Pine Lake Prep and Christ The King last year deep in the playoff run, so they knew and we’re ready to meet that level this year.”
With the title win, the Knights ended their 2023 season on a 21-game unbeaten streak to go along with a Yadkin Valley Conference championship they secured prior to their state playoff campaign.
Prior to the championship match, the Knights won the 2023 NCHSAA 1A Western Regional title on Nov. 14 with a 1-0 road win at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, marking the team’s first regional title.
But even with that achievement, the Knights’ journey wasn’t done quite yet.
“I’m just super pumped,” Harrington added. “We knew that the bigger field would be to our advantage as we play our home playoff games on Pfeiffer’s field, which is about the same size. We knew if we could keep moving the ball well, keep trusting our skills, and getting it to our teammate’s feet, we could wear them out a little bit in the second half. We were able to do that and get two goals in the second half to get to a 3-1 lead. I just couldn’t be prouder for these guys.”
Hobbton was the first team to get on the scoreboard as junior Ever Reyes scored in the 19th minute of the match.
Gray Stone senior Desmond Bullard — later named the championship’s Most Valuable Player — tied the score at the 30th minute to make it a 1-1 game heading into the second half. Then at the 51st minute, senior Arkyn Pethel put the Knights up 2-1 as he scored on a deflected rebound kick near the goal.
Bullard continued to make an impact for his team as he made his 34th goal of the year after an assist from sophomore Donovan Christlieb to put Gray Stone ahead by two at the 58th minute of the match.
Gray Stone’s dominant 2023 season came to a close with 119 total goals scored while limiting all opponents to just 27 goals allowed.
“I think it really showed our guys that we can compete with anybody,” Bullard said after the win. “Even when everyone thinks the other team is better than you and you’re the underdogs, it doesn’t mean anything. Go out and play your game and good things can happen.”
Along with Bullard’s MVP honors, the NCHSAA presented Gray Stone’s Michael Burleson with the team’s NC Farm Bureau Sportsmanship Award.
With veteran players leaving and younger players stepping up, the Knights will now have an offseason to rest and gear up for the 2024 season where they will aim for back-to-back state titles.