NICHOLASVILLE — Todd Bretz, coach of the Paul Laurence Dunbar boys' soccer team, knew his Bulldogs would be in for a scrap Thursday night.
Never mind that host East Jessamine, after a season-opening win, had tied once and lost five since then.
Four of the five losses were one-goal matches. And East Jessamine is coached by Tom Morgan — a 1994 Dunbar graduate who was Bretz's first all-American.
Turned out Bretz was right about what to expect.
Matthew Spanyer headed in a goal with 7:40 left to lift 14th-ranked Dunbar to a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Spanyer, who also assisted on Nathan Jones' goal, said his family has been friends with Morgan for some time, "so it felt pretty good to score the game-winner on him."
Morgan didn't like the outcome, but had no complaints about his team's effort.
"We've had a rocky season and, to have a big-name soccer school like Dunbar come in and us play them like we did tonight, I'm real proud of them," he said.
Dunbar (6-5) now has back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Although the Bulldogs outshot East by about a two-to-one margin in a scoreless first half, the Jaguars had the higher quality chances.
Jon Hurley made a leaping grab of David Prewitt's near-perfect header. That turned out to be one of eight saves for the senior goalkeeper.
"The defense did a really good job of making the shots saveable," Hurley said. "They weren't these close-in shots. They made them shoot out wide, so we worked well as a unit."
Hurley missed the final 17 seconds of the half after taking a knee to the hip during a collision with a teammate.
"I didn't communicate to Todd (Montgomery), the defender," Hurley said. "And that's what I get."
Dunbar turned up the pressure early in the second half.
Austin Miller put a shot off the far post. After Jones scored, Cesar Delgado ripped a shot off the crossbar.
Jones broke the scoreless draw with 27 minutes left, taking a Spanyer pass near midfield for a breakaway.
The Jaguars (1-6-1) got the equalizer with 11 minutes to play. Sam Miller broke in from the left wing and unleashed a low bullet that just squirted under a diving Hurley.
Spanyer would score less than four minutes later.
"We were able to finish on the one opportunity and, for them, Sam Miller's so dangerous," Bretz said. "He was creating a lot of chances for them. He got his opportunity and he finished. We were fortunate to come back in and get that cross, and get the header off of it."
The cross, sent from Kerek Plummer on the left wing, found Spanyer about 8 yards out on the back side.
"I saw the ball coming in and I did my best to get in front of (the defender)," said Spanyer, a junior midfielder. "When it went in, I didn't know how to react. I was so excited. It just fell in place."
East pressured in the closing minutes, but couldn't find the net.
"Yes, we lost, but I'm very pleased with how they played the whole 80 minutes," Morgan said.
Paul Laurence Dunbar 2, East Jessamine 1
Goals — PLD: Nathan Jones, Matthew Spanyer; EJ: Sam Miller. Goalkeepers — PLD: Jon Hurley, Fernando Ortiz; EJ: Dale DeVore. Records — PLD: 6-5; EJ: 1-6-1.