COLUMBIA — Herald correspondent
Some nights the glass slipper just doesn’t fit.
The Irmo Yellow Jackets scored three unanswered goals in the final 32 minutes of the game to come from behind to beat Nation Ford 3-1 in the 4A Upper State boys’ soccer championship at W.C. Hawkins Stadium Tuesday evening.
“In the first half we seemed to capitalize on holes and in the second half we uncharacteristically gave those holes up,” said Nation Ford head coach Elton Ramey.
The loss ended the Falcons’ magical run through the playoffs, as they had never won a playoff game in boys’ soccer until this season.
“The guys played their hearts out,” Ramey said. “For us to go out now is hard, but we will come back from it. We will get better. We have a bright future.”
On Sunday, Nation Ford moved from 12th to eighth in the state rankings, while Irmo moved up to the third spot in the state. Irmo has been something of a juggernaut in boys’ soccer over the last several decades under the leadership of head coach Phil Savitz, winning 13 of its 15 state championships with Savitz at the helm during his 33 seasons.
However, the Falcons, playing in their fourth straight road playoff game, have been relying on “the bigger they come, the harder they fall” mentality throughout the playoffs.
Neither team dominated in the first half, and while Irmo probably controlled the ball more, the Nation Ford defense was a thorn in the Yellow Jackets’ side, allowing just two shots on goal in the first half.
In the second half, the Falcons got the goal they were looking for on a throw in from senior Tyler Snincak, which was initially stopped, but senior Austin Huddy got the rebound and put in into the back of the net to give Nation Ford a 1-0 lead.
Despite the early score, the Yellow Jackets seemed to almost start forcing the issue, while the Nation Ford defense started to get more aggressive.
However, a hole opened for Irmo as they struck back six minutes later. On a cross pass near the Falcons’ box, Yellow Jackets captain Michael Sawyer drove a header into the net to tie the match at 1-1.
Once the first goal for Irmo happen, Irmo seemed to switch things into another gear. The Yellow Jackets kept working things around the Falcons’ box and looking for opportunities. They got their next one when sophomore Caleb Jenkins knocked it into the right side of the net with 25 minutes left in the game to give Irmo the lead.
The Yellow Jackets seemed to control the ball more after the second goal, as Nation Ford in turn looked to be the ones starting to press the matter with time running down.
Irmo sealed a trip to the state championship, where it will face Lexington Saturday, with about nine minutes left as a battle during a throw in allowed senior Matt Smith to head the ball in past diving Nation Ford senior keeper Josh Bruckner.
In the first half, Irmo tried to establish control from the opening whistle, but was forced to deal with an aggressive Falcons team. That put the Yellow Jackets on defense as they made sure Nation Ford got nowhere near the box.
Irmo took a good look at the goal about seven minutes into the game with a throw in by senior Ben Hinson, but Bruckner made a diving save crashing into the side bar with his body.
Nation Ford did have a couple chances early as well, but failed to convert two corner kicks.
Both offenses struggled as the game quickly turned into a defensive contest. The Falcons became good at intercepting the long pass from Irmo and stalling the Jackets’ momentum.
Nation Ford’s offense sputtered some as the breakaways that had got them to this point in the playoffs weren’t available due to a stingy Yellow Jackets defense.
With about 13 minutes left in the first half, Irmo sophomore Weston Garner had a good shot attempt, but the velocity wasn’t enough to get past a ready Bruckner.
Irmo 3, Nation Ford 1
Nation Ford 0 1 – 1
Irmo 0 3 – 3
NF – Austin Huddy, 42:56
I – Michael Sawyer, 49:11
I – Caleb Jenkins, 55:17
I – Matt Smith, 72:04
Shots on goal: Nation Ford 5, Irmo 6.
Saves: Josh Bruckner 3 (NF), Hunter Wages (I) 4.
Corner kicks: Nation Ford 3, Irmo 2.
Records: Nation Ford 14-6-1, Irmo 16-8-0.