Fort Mill Yellow Jackets – 2024 5A boys soccer state champions

COLUMBIA – Fort Mill sophomore keeper Nicky Gritz came away with the biggest save of his young career stopping the third penalty kick from the Stratford Knights to give the Yellow Jackets the 5A boys soccer state championship after a nearly five-hour game.

“I was just thinking I have to make a play,” Nicky Gritz said. “My teammates played amazing and now it was my turn.”

Fort Mill won 3-0 on penalty kicks after Braden Gritz, Ryan Seitz and Camden Slaney all made their penalty kicks for the Jackets as the game ended tied at 2-2 after 110-minutes worth of soccer. There was also a two-hour weather delay that threw plans out the windows for both teams.

Braden Gritz said he was proud of his younger brother for stepping up in the moment.

“He amazes me every game,” Braden said.

Fort Mill was looking for its fifth state athletic championship in this academic year. A fifth-title broken a school record for most in an academic year as the school was tied with four from the 2010-2011 school year. The state championship was the 35th state championship for the Fort Mill High athletic department.

The same setting, at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, is where Fort Mill won its only state soccer title back in 2012. Fort Mill didn’t enter the playoffs on that much of a hot streak as they lost their last three regular season matches to Clover, Nation Ford and Indian Land.

However, they opened the playoffs beating Gaffney at home and then went on the road for wins at Hillcrest, Byrnes and JL Mann. The JL Mann match in the Upper State championship was one of the better performances of the season with a 5-0 win against the No. 4 team in the country and proved that this year’s Jackets squad was real.

“I am super proud of the boys,” said Fort Mill assistant coach Pete Burroughs, who was serving as head coach for the final two games of the season for the Jackets. “We have a very strong believe in what God is doing. We knew what we had to do. We felt like we were here for a reason. We wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for (head coach) Mark (Seren).”

Fort Mill started the match off very slow and methodical trying to be patient in the early going.

Neither team was dominant as they tried to feel the match out.

Fort Mill almost got a goal as Braden Gritz got a breakaway and scored, but it was waved off because of a foul call on the Jackets.

Fort Mill was able to then start on the attack more knowing at that point they could score. Several minutes later, Gritz struck officially on a header off a cross in the 14th minute to give Fort Mill a 1-0 lead.

Stratford was able to turn up the aggressive and won more 50/50 balls on their end of the field.

Braden Gritz almost had another goal in the 26th minute hitting a shot off the left post which bounced back into the field of play as Fort Mill wasn’t able to get the rebound.

Playing with a small lead, Fort Mill turned their attention to defense and despite controlling possession on offense, for most of the time, was able to not allow any attacks from the Knights on a consistent basis.

Fort Mill was able to take a 1-0 lead into the half as Stratford wasn’t able to really put together any strong offensive runs in the first half.

Keeper Nicky Gritz was able to stop an early shot attempt by Stratford about three minutes into the second half. Stratford was able to get a free kick about eight minutes into the second half, but placed the ball wide left.

This was the last action for a while as the game went under a lightning delay with just under 32 minutes left in the second half. During that time a couple storm cells came through and two hours later, play finally resumed.

Stratford came out on the attack after the lengthy delay and was able to control the ball more. Fort Mill wasn’t as strong offensively and took a while to get some momentum back. The Knights was able to get one shot off in the 57th minute of the match, but sailed it over the goal.

That early strength finally broke through with an equalizer a minute later as Stratford tied the match at one. The Knights took the lead three minutes later with a strike right up the heart of the Fort Mill defense to go up 2-1.

“It was tough,” Burroughs said. “We weren’t the same team after the delay. They weren’t either.”

Fort Mill did get their first shot on goal two minutes later as Braden Gritz narrowly missed down the left side of the field. As the second half wore on, Fort Mill slowly started picking up the offensively aggression which paid off. The Jackets finally found what they had been looking for in the 71st minute as Ryan Seitz found the Jackets equalizer scoring off a deflection.

Towards the end of the second half, both teams seemed settled to let the game go into overtime as they turned their attention to stopping each other defensively and held off their scoring efforts.

Mac Banks:, @fortprep

Fort Mill’s Braden Gritz fires a shot at the Stratford keeper during the 5A state championship at Memorial Stadium.
Fort Mill’s Ryan Seitz pushes the ball down the field duirng the 5A state championship.