GREENVILLE — Forget about March Madness try May Madness!
The Nation Ford Falcons boys soccer team upset JL Mann 3-2 in the third round of the 4A state soccer playoffs to head to the Upper State championship Tuesday where they will face either Region III foe Northwestern or Columbia juggernaut Irmo.
On paper it was a story of David and Goliath. JL Mann, the defending state 4A champions, ranked second in the state and seventh in the Southern region of the country, according to the National Soccer Coaches Association, while Nation Ford soccer was on a historic run getting to the third round for the first time in school history and trying to prove itself as the new kid on the block.
Coming off its first two playoff wins ever, Nation Ford, ranked 12th in the state, knew it had its toughest challenge ahead of it for the season.
Head coach Elton Ramey was speechless after the game, but the beaming smile on his face said enough.
This is awesome, he said. They played amazing. This is a huge upset. We kept our composure and were able to do it. This was a complete team win.
Trailing 2-0 at the half, JL Mann came out and went right after Nation Ford. Just over two minutes into the second half, the Patriots junior Keaton Hinze out-raced a Falcons defender and scorched a shot past Nation Ford keeper senior Josh Bruckner to put JL Mann on the board.
Nation Ford came right back to get its two goal advantage back scoring nine minutes later as sophomore Caleb Brukner scored off a rebound during a corner kick by the Falcons.
However, that jubilee was short lived by the Falcons, as Hinze came back to score on a header just 45 seconds later making it 3-2.
JL Mann controlled the ball more in the second half and forced Nation Fords defense to make adjustments and play more alertly.
The Patriots tried to use several breakaways to catch Nation Ford off guard, but Bruckner was on full alert and was able to adjust each time.
Ramey said its what they prepare for in practice.
The way we work in practice and how these guys push each other has brought us to a new level, he said.
With about eight minutes left, Bruckner and Patriots senior captain Nicky Watson collided in the box, causing both sidelines to take notice and the clock to stop. Watson, who is committed to Niagara University, was the leading scorer for JL Mann with 34 goals on the year. Watson came out for a bit, while Bruckner was able to stay in and shake it off.
Afterwards, the Patriots went into panic mode trying to do everything they could to tie the game, but could never muster anything.
The first half showed that the Patriots werent ready for Nation Ford and, as Ramey surmised, they took the Falcons lightly.
If JL Mann was taking the Falcons seriously, it didnt show to start as senior Austin Huddy scored just 73 seconds into the game catching almost everybody at Patriots Stadium off guard, including JL Mann sophomore keeper Aden Ardoin.
The Patriots controlled possession for the next several minutes and got two quick shots off, but it was the quick hands of Bruckner that kept the shots out of the net.
Nation Ford stayed on the attack and fought to keep possession, but the Patriots were just as strong defensively and would often steal the Falcons momentum.
The Falcons attacking nature would push Nation Ford to a 2-0 lead as Huddy again out hustled two JL Mann defenders to slide one past Ardoin and have the Patriots fans asking below the press box, what is going on?
The Falcons kept the pressure on JL Mann and held control of the ball after the goal. Huddy went for a hat trick early with about 22 minutes left in the first half, but Ardoin finally caught wind of him for his first save of the game.
JL Mann had several scrambles at shot attempts crowding the Nation Ford box, but the ball was just battled around before finally being cleared on a couple occasions.
Nation Ford 3, JL Mann 2
Nation Ford 2 1 3
JL Mann02 2
NF Austin Huddy, 1:13
NF Huddy, 13:33
JLM Keaton Hinze, 43:15
NF Caleb Bruckner, 49:12
JLM Hinze, 49:57
Shots on goal: Nation Ford 7, JL Mann 7.
Saves: Josh Bruckner 5 (NF), Aden Ardoin 4 (JLM).
Corner kicks: Nation Ford 4, JL Mann 6.
Records: Nation Ford 14-5-1, JL Mann 19-2-0.