The Region 3-5A boys soccer standings are officially up for grabs after two important results Friday night.
Nation Ford, playing its third overtime game in a row, pulled off a dramatic penalty kick shootout victory over region leaders Clover to win 0-0 (3-2 PKs) in front of a raucous home crowd.
Meanwhile, bottom-of-the-table Gaffney was able to pull off a 2-1 upset win vs. region foe Fort Mill Friday.
At the end of the night, Clover held a 4-2 region record, while Fort Mill and Nation Ford were both tied for second place with 3-2 records. Clover has lost both of its region contests to Nation Ford, who would hold the tiebreaker if the two teams were to end up with the same region record at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Boiling Springs has a 2-2 region record and Gaffney is 1-5 in the region after picking up its first region win.
“This thing is wide open,” said Nation Ford head coach Kenny Halas. “Completely wide open.”
Nation Ford’s senior goalkeeper Ryan Halas made a crucial save in the penalty kick shootout before senior Ryan Miles converted the decisive spot kick to give the Falcons, who is now 9-6 and 3-2 in the region after an emotional victory. With their team in tow, Miles and Halas both wheeled away in celebration towards Nation Ford’s home fans after Miles sent Clover goalkeeper Logan Knapp the wrong way.
Both teams entered overtime scoreless, and neither was able to find the quality necessary to break each other down in the ensuing five-minute halves. With the penalty kick score tied at 2-2, Clover’s Amuda Jakeem saw his shot saved by Halas, who stood firm in the middle of the goal. And on the next kick, Miles went left when Knapp went right, sealing the win with a low shot.
Miles said he tends to take his penalty kicks by reading the goalkeeper’s eyes, guessing where they’ll go, and then shooting the other way. On this occasion, he was exactly right.
“Coach doesn’t like it, because they say you can mess it up,” Miles said smiling. “But that’s what I do.”
Clover, which is now 8-8-1 and 4-2 in the region, is still in contention for the region crown, but may have to hope that Nation Ford slips up in their final games. The Blue Eagles huffed and puffed all night long, but couldn’t quite find the cutting edge needed to win in regulation or overtime.
But Nation Ford has gotten used to these long-distance games. The Falcons lost in overtime against Fort Mill late last month before falling to Boiling Springs on penalty kicks earlier this week.
Miles said his team is gassed after three straight overtime games, but motivated.
“It’s just fueling the fire,” he said. “We came off a bad result a few days ago, but this is the mentality. This is how we fight for each other. We don’t give up.”
Just getting to overtime was a win in Kenny Halas’ book. He said he lost his starting center back early in the game to an injury. But he said he had given his team a “heart-to-heart” earlier this week about stepping up when others fall. Halas said his team embraced that lesson, and that showed Friday night.
Sophomore Luke Marin had the most dangerous opportunities for Nation Ford, but Knapp was equal to his long-range shots. And Jakeem was dangerously close to opening the scoring in the first half of overtime when he burst into the Falcons’ box, but his shot found only the side netting.
“We had to reorganize what we were doing,” Halas said. “We had our fair share of chances, and they did, too. We grind with the best of them, that’s what we are.”
By the time both teams entered the penalty kick shootout, it was clear Nation Ford could go the distance. Marin and defender Andrew Enger also scored on their penalty kicks to help push the Falcons to a win.
Halas said the team will use Saturday and Sunday as an opportunity to rest and recuperate before meeting region foe and crosstown rival Fort Mill on the road April 21. Clover next travels to Catawba Ridge in a non-region game Monday.
“It’ll be an advantage to get an extra day of rest,” Halas said. “We did the two-hour bus ride to Boiling Springs and lost on PKs, so that would have been tough for it to go the other way. We were on that bus ride home just the other night.”