Smithfield boys soccer wins first-ever state title to cap perfect season
Years of hard work and dedication from the members of the Packers varsity boys soccer team laid the foundation for a historic and triumphant night for Smithfield High School and the surrounding community as the Virginia High School League Class 4 state championship game unfolded June 23 at Packer Field.
The Packers scored with about 17 minutes left and then stayed strong to defeat Jefferson Forest High School 2-1, capping an undefeated season by clinching Smithfield’s first-ever boys soccer state title at home in front of a packed crowd of approximately 1,250 people.
“Words can’t describe what this feels like,” Packers Head Coach Jason Henderson said shortly after the championship win. “This is a lot of years in the making. The guys played hard all season. It’s just a big, big moment in Smithfield High School history.
“I think that the biggest thing that I would take away from it is just hard work and dedication pays off, and these kids have put the time in,” he added.
The 2021 Packers featured 12 seniors, many of whom have been playing together for a long time, first for Smithfield Soccer Club and then representing Smithfield High School.
“I coached a lot of these guys that are seniors as U10, U11, so that means they were 10, 11 years old, and most of these guys are 17 or 18 years old, so seven or eight years in the making type of thing, and these guys have been special,” he said.
He noted that they simply work every day at honing their abilities on the pitch.
“Our philosophy was compete every day, and we came out and did it — came out and did it tonight,” he said.
Both Smithfield and Jefferson Forest entered the state championship game with perfect 14-0 records, and it was a tight, highly competitive contest throughout.
However, the Packers always managed to strike first, preserving another incredible distinction of their perfect season.
“We never played from behind the entire season,” Henderson said.
Across 15 games, Smithfield outscored its opponents 42-5.
The 41st goal came June 23 with 7:25 left in the first half, when senior midfielder Liam Moore crossed the ball from the left side, and junior midfielder Braden Ross scored.
Senior defender Joshua Condit highlighted the trust he has in Moore on offense.
“Man, just give the ball to him and we’re good,” he said.
The way the game had gone to that point, Smithfield looked likely to enter the halftime break with a 1-0 lead, but then the Cavaliers, who had been piling up corner kick opportunities, converted one into a goal with 4:21 remaining to make the score 1-1.
“Jefferson Forest has a long legacy of good soccer teams, so it was just great to come out and play against a good team,” Henderson said.
The two unbeaten squads remained locked in that 1-1 tie until 17:03 remained in the second half.
Condit crossed the ball, leading to opportunities in the goal box for his teammate, senior midfielder Trevor Miller.
“Normally I don’t go up for headers despite my extremely large stature, but I did because my other teammate was dropping back for me,” Miller said. “He told me to go up. And honestly, it was all a blur, but I was marking up on another tall person, and I was in front of him, and I was backing up into him as I saw the trajectory (of the ball), and it was going over my head so I had to back up, and I head(ed) it as hard as I possibly could into the goal, and the keeper saved it, and it bounced around a little bit, and I saw my opportunity, and I toe-blowed it as hard as I could. It had another deflection, and luckily it went over the line, and from there I was just ecstatic.”
After Miller’s go-ahead score, Jefferson Forest had some opportunities, but the stout Smithfield defense, anchored by Condit, and outstanding play from senior goalkeeper Carter Kelly held the Cavaliers at bay.
“If I was going to give a Man of the Match, it would be to Carter Kelly,” Henderson said. “He’s played his tail off.”
In the final minutes of the game, Smithfield did not settle for playing defense but began to make more incursions into Jefferson Forest’s backfield, sealing the championship win.
Condit said going wide and spreading out the field was a key to victory.
Henderson described the keys to victory as “just playing our game, possessing the ball, knocking it around and just knowing that we could beat them, knowing from the get-go that we could beat them and we were confident and so forth.”
Condit, who acknowledged the extraordinary way in which he was closing his high school career, shared something that stood out to him about the night.
“The whole community came out, it was on all the signs in the neighborhood — it was crazy,” he said. “I’ve never seen the bleachers more stacked.”
Smithfield Principal Bryan Thrift said, “You’ve got to admit, right, the best part about tonight was having the fans in the stands to cheer the kids on. I’m getting chill bumps right now talking about it. This is really what high school athletics is about. It’s a community experience.”
About 1,250 total tickets were sold, according to Smithfield Athletic Director Matthew Moore.
“We sold more tickets than every other state championship that took place tonight or semifinal from Tennessee, West Virginia to the Eastern Shore, and that tells you how this community supports their small schools and supports these kids,” Moore said.
Thrift confirmed this marks the first time in Smithfield High School’s history that it has had two athletic teams win state championships in the same academic year. Earlier in the 2020-21 school year, the varsity boys basketball team won the state title.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to limit people’s exposure to more venues led to the VHSL Class 4 boys soccer state title game being played at Packer Field.
“This is the last time a state title game will be played on your home field because typically they’re played on a neutral field,” Thrift said. “So to have it here this year at home during COVID, that’s special in itself.”