Lions make history in David-versus-Goliath style

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

After losing an outstanding quintet of seniors to graduation, led by D.J. Dillon, who was ranked as the top goal scorer in the nation on MaxPreps.com for fall 2022, it would have been understandable if Rock Church School’s varsity boys soccer team had taken a step back this fall to begin rebuilding.

Instead, the young Rock Lions went 15-0 on their way to becoming the first soccer team in the history of the Mid-Atlantic Christian Athletic Association to win the dual state championship in both the league’s 1A division, for smaller schools like RCS, and also the league’s 2A division, for significantly larger schools.

Lions Head Coach Danny Dillon said that 2A includes schools that range from 250 to 700 students, while 1A includes schools with anywhere from 75 to around 250.

RCS has 75 students from which it derived its 17-member varsity boys soccer roster this fall that featured only three seniors.

“What they pulled off this year, it really was a David-Goliath (story),” Dillon said.

He noted that the coaches at the 2A level were shocked. He was too.

After graduation earlier this year, the RCS team said goodbye to D.J. Dillon, Luke Blythe, Cole Butler, Seth Woodward and Kaleb Doering, who helped form the Lions’ lines on both offense and defense.

Coach Dillon indicated that those seniors did an excellent job of moving the ball around, helping develop the younger players that have now taken the reins of the program.

“There was no question that I thought we would still compete (this fall), but I didn’t expect us to compete as well as we did,” he said. “I was surprised that this team was able to jell as well as they did so quickly, and that’s a testament to the former guys as well.”

He said that the returning players helped ensure that the “chemistry kind of picked up right where we left off.”

The Rock Lions went 10-0 in the regular season this fall, outscoring their opponents 53-6. RCS was led on offense by freshman striker Benny Dillon, who scored 16 goals, and junior midfielder Miles Dawkins, who scored 11.

Freshman striker Will Pittman led the Lions with 10 assists and also scored eight goals.

Helping anchor a defense that never gave up more than one goal a game during regular season play were senior sweeper Justin Temple and freshman goalkeeper Rylan Holloman.

As the No. 1 seed in the MACAA 1A Tournament, RCS earned a bye in the quarterfinals. The Lions then routed Bethel Christian School 8-0 in the semifinals to advance to face Suffolk Christian Academy in the final.

Benny Dillon scored twice, and Dawkins and Pittman each recorded a goal as Rock defeated the SCA Knights 4-1 to clinch the 1A dual state championship. 

This is the third year RCS has been part of the MACAA, which features teams from both North Carolina and Virginia, leading to the “dual state” aspect of its championships. This was the third consecutive time the Lions have won the 1A soccer title.

Coach Dillon noted that whichever team wins the MACAA 1A Tournament earns a berth in the MACAA 2A Tournament.

“They split the 1A and the 2A, but they want to make sure that they acknowledge the best team in all of MACAA,” he said.

The 1A champion enters the 2A tourney as the No. 6 seed, and the Lions began play by facing the No. 3 seed in the quarterfinals — Community Christian School, of Wilson, North Carolina. The Lions defeated the Cyclones 4-1.

Then in the semifinals, Rock faced No. 2 Trinity Christian School, of Greenville, North Carolina. The game went to overtime, with Dawkins scoring a clutch goal to give the Lions a 3-2 victory over the Tigers. 

Dawkins scored all three of Rock’s goals in the contest.

In the 2A championship game, the Lions faced No. 1 Jacksonville Christian Academy, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, the same team that had thwarted Rock’s attempt to claim the 2A title in 2022.

Like RCS, the Conquerors had lost some key seniors to graduation, and Coach Dillon indicated this was likely true for teams across the league.

The Lions proved able to adjust to the change the best. They defeated the Conquerors 4-2, with Dawkins recording two goals and junior midfielder Dedrick Blowe and Pittman scoring one apiece. 

Dawkins scored seven of Rock’s 11 goals in the 2A tournament.

“Miles was a midfielder — that’s what makes those seven goals even more special,” Coach Dillon said. “He just made good runs and has breakaway speed, so we got him the ball … Man, he just had the tournament of his life.”

And with the win over JCA, the Rock Lions made history by holding the MACAA 2A dual state title as well as its 1A counterpart.

“It’s never happened before because these schools are all just so much bigger with so much more talent, and man, we just made this unbelievable run,” Coach Dillon said. “And there’s no question who the best team was, because we beat the three, the two and the No. 1 seed from the 2A schools. So it just kind of makes it even more really unbelievable. It really was God just honoring these boys.”

Across all 15 games this fall, the Lions outscored their opponents 76-12.

Alluding to outstanding teamwork, Coach Dillon noted that the key to Rock’s success this season was that out of all the teams in the MACAA, “we just played better soccer.”

He said, “As a whole, our 11 guys worked better together, passed better together, scored better together, played better defense together. Overall we were the better soccer team out of anybody we played.”