The Orange men’s soccer team started its season with a 2-nil loss to Riverside on a mild August night at Linny Wrenn Stadium in Durham.

As indicated by the scoreline, it was a tepid showing offensively for Orange, whose best chance to score came on a penalty kick that was saved in the first half by Riverside goalkeeper John Ballard.

Offensively, that Orange team from two months ago bares little resemblance to the squad that is now in the state playoffs. Along the way, the ride through October has been filled with last minutes heroics that have paced the way for the Panthers’ first appearance in the state playoffs since 2017.

Orange, which finished third in the Central Carolina Conference, received a #21 seed and will face #12 seed J.H. Rose in Greenville on Halloween night. The field of 64 in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A State Tournament was released on Friday afternoon.

Rose, who finished third in the 4A/3A Big East Conference, received a #12 seed. The Rampants ended the regular season on a five-game winning streak, including a victory over D.H. Conley, who tied with Jacksonville for the Big East Championship.

Orange started 1-5 and didn’t score multiple goals in a game until they defeated Cedar Ridge 3-1 on September 14 in the opening leg of the Hillsborough Derby. At that point, the offense picked up and the Panthers won five in a row, its longest winning streak in five years.

The Panthers’ run to the postseason hasn’t lacked for drama. On October 13, Orange stunned Chapel Hill 3-2 at Ron Benson Field. They played the final 20 minutes with only ten men. Junior Emmanuel Mil Cruz scored the game-winning goal with 35 seconds remaining after Cooper Zinn scored the equalizer off an assist from Darius Corbett.

The following game, the Panthers defeated Northwood 3-2 in Pittsboro after scoring two goals in the final 15 minutes. Dylan Silverman notched the game-winning goal with 1:32 remaining with a laser shot from 25 yards away. Tyler Mann, the leading scorer on the team, tied the game. Mil Cruz scored Orange’s opener.

Orange’s senior night against Eastern Alamance last Monday may have been the most memorable of all. In a 4-2 overtime win, Corbett scored two goals in his final game at Orange Soccer Field. Zinn and Mann also scored.

Corbett, a centerback, scored Orange’s first goals of the year on penalty kicks, including the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over Knightdale, their first win of the season. Mann leads Orange with eleven goals. Cooper Zinn has seven goals.

Corbett is paired as a centerback with senior Tucker Gaddy, who were instrumental in four shutout wins this season, along with goalkeeper Connor McMurtry.

The winner of J.H. Rose-Orange will face the winner of #5 Southern Nash vs. #28 Southern Wayne in the second round.

Orange’s inclusion in the field of 64 continued a strong showing for the Central Carolina Conference, home to the defending 3A State Champions Western Alamance. Five CCC teams made the state playoffs. Walter Williams, who defeated Orange 3-0 in the regular season finale on Wednesday, is the top-overall seed in the 3A East Region.

Western Alamance (#13 seed) will host Northern Nash in the opening round. Northwood (#22) will travel to Swansboro on Monday. Eastern Alamance will go to Croatan.

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