COLUMBIA — Irmo coach Phil Savitz issued a challenge to his team during the halftime session with the score tied, 1-1, against Northwestern in the Class-AAAA Upper State semifinals on Saturday.
In the first half, we had been outworked, Savitz said. Actually, we were fortunate to get out of the first half with the score tied, 1-1. What we did was to sit back and try to protect an early lead and you cannot play that way in the playoffs and expect to win.
Savitz told the Yellow Jackets to step up their intensity and make the extra effort in getting to loose balls in an intense, physical match at Hawkins Stadium on the campus of Irmo High School.
That strategy paid off for Irmo, which scored the game-winning goal on a loose ball in the box with 8:07 remaining and held on for the dramatic 2-1 victory.
Yellow Jacket freshman Sam Padula booted the second Yellow Jacket goal after Trojan goal keeper Cody Jones made two spectacular blocks, but was unable to secure possession.
What happened, said Padula, was a golden opportunity with an open net after Jones left his feet to make the defensive stops.
It was just a scrum in the box, and it (ball) just fell at my feet.
The Irmo goal came after several near-goal attempts in the second half. During one stretch, three Yellow Jacket shots deflected off the cross bar within a two-minute span.
Meanwhile, Northwestern, which ends the season at 19-2-1, also had golden opportunities, which coach Dominick Wren said was not taken advantage of in the second half. He said that was the difference in the outcome.
Just give credit to Irmo; they took advantage of opportunities while we did not. This was a match between two evenly matched teams and Irmo capitalized on two opportunities and we just took advantage of one.
That is the simplest way to explain it.
Wren pointed to two occasions in the second half when the Trojans dribbled toward the Yellow Jacket goal with a three-two player advantage. Both times, the Yellow Jacket goal keeper committed toward the passer, leaving the net open.
However, the pass missed, resulting in the ball sailing out of bounds with Irmo getting possession.
There was also a corner kick where we had a chance, but failed to take advantage of the opportunity, Wren said.
Irmo took the early momentum when Edwin Garcia took an assist from Caleb Jenkins and delivered a shot into the net at the 30:22 mark.
Northwestern, however, maintained their composure during the physical match, which resulted in pushing and shoving between players on at least three occasions. The Trojans finally got even with 2:01 before the half.
Julian Webb got a deflected shot within the box, and rifled a shot past Yellow Jacket goalkeeper Hunter Wages to tie the score.
The second half was a back-and-forth defensive struggle which saw both teams with scoring chances, but Irmo finally coming through late in the contest.
The Yellow Jackets, 15-8, will Nation Ford Tuesday for the Upper State title. Nation Ford scored a 3-2 upset over JL Mann, the defending Class-AAAA state champs Saturday afternoon.
Irmo-Edwin Garcia goal. Assist Caleb Jenkins, 30:22.
Northwestern-Julian Webb-unassisted goal, 2:01.
Irmo-Sam Padula,unassisted goal, 8:07.
Records: Irmo 15-8, Northwestern 19-2-1.