When Nation Ford striker Austin Huddy scored just 73 seconds into Saturdays Class AAAA boys soccer third-round match against J.L. Mann, the Patriots were shocked. But it wasnt the first surprise the Falcons pulled in what has been an unexpected run to the semifinals of the state tournament, especially considering our previous history when we get in the playoffs, said Nation Ford coach Elton Ramey. Wed get in and we got out just as fast.
This spring the Falcons left behind four years of winless playoff appearances by beating Blythewood 1-0 in the first round, the schools first boys soccer postseason win in the programs six-year history. They followed with a 1-0 win against Dorman, before upsetting J.L. Mann, the defending state champion, to advance to the Upper State final.
Its been a long journey, said Huddy, who has played four years of varsity at Nation Ford. Just to see from freshman year and to come all the way here, its a huge deal.
Its interesting, Ramey said about his players. Theyre extremely excited, but they are very composed about their excitement. Its almost like theyve been there before. Its a very mature group Ive got and theyve been very focused on what weve got to do.
Nation Ford (14-5-1) will hit the road Tuesday to face Irmo (15-8) at 7 p.m. in the Upper State championship, with the winner advancing to Saturdays state title game. Irmo has claimed 15 boys soccer state championships, including 13 under outgoing coach Phil Savitz, who is headed to brand new River Bluff High after the season. Much has been made of what Irmo fans hope will be a victorious last run this postseason, the final, well-written chapter in Savitzs 33 years at the school.
Its a familiar storyline to Ramey and company. Like the previous three rounds, nobody expects the Falcons to prevail Tuesday night.
Weve been thought of as the underdog since the first round, said Falcon defender David Parks.
Last years 4-3 loss to Chapman in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs was the final straw for a group that felt it deserved better.
That kind of fueled the fire for the guys that returned, said Ramey, who has been at Nation Ford for all six of the schools soccer seasons, including the past five as head coach.
Key in the Falcons 2013 run has been a yearlong defensive stinginess. Nation Fords rear guard, marshaled by Parks, captain Tyler Snincak and keeper Josh Bruckner, has only allowed 18 goals in 20 games this season, with 11 clean sheets to boot. Three of those have come in the past four games.
Rameys club hasnt had a home game in over three weeks, but that hasnt mattered. The Falcons are 12-2-1 on the road this year, with away wins against Brookland-Cayce, Greenville, Blythewood (twice), Indian Land, Dorman and now J.L. Mann.
The victory at Mann last Saturday was the most impressive, and the Falcons readiness from the first whistle was the root. With barely a minute played, Bruckners wind-aided punt took a big bounce in the Mann end, and Huddy capitalized on the home teams defensive mix-up, heading the ball past the goalie and another defender before slotting home.
The senior forwards second goal 11 minutes later was better. He corralled another booming Bruckner punt, held off one defender and lobbed the goalie to put the visitors up 2-0 to the surprise of a suddenly silent stadium in Greenville. Huddy, who was selected for the Clash of the Carolinas All-Star game in July, will play defense this fall at Charlottes Queens University, but if this is his last season as a forward, hes gone out in a blaze of glory, scoring a single-season school record 22 goals.
Hes been amazing, Ramey said. Putting two away with a lot of composure against J.L. Mann was huge last weekend.
Irmo in revival
The Falcons catch Irmo at the wrong time, as Savitzs crew has been getting the results in a late season revival. The Yellow Jackets swept South Pointe aside 4-0 in the first round, with Ben Hinson, who will kick footballs at Coastal Carolina this fall, scoring on the opening kickoff courtesy of a 55-yard strike from the center line. The Yellow Jackets then outlasted Mauldin on penalty kicks before slipping past Northwestern 2-1 last Saturday to advance to the Upper State championship.
Irmo lost four of its first six games to start the campaign, and four of its last five in the regular season.
But Savitzs program is a different animal in the postseason when their steely nerves and expectation of success can overwhelm opponents.
Irmos home field advantage can be equally intimidating. The Yellow Jackets legion of fans are generally perched just above the away teams bench, but after coming through the J.L. Mann storm, Nation Ford players dont expect to be fazed.
J.L. Manns crowd was crazy; they knew a lot of things about us, said Huddy, who was impressed and a little surprised by the Mann fans research into his teammates backgrounds.
Its a classic matchup of the new Falcons on the block facing Irmo, a program with more all-time state titles than regular season wins in 2013. Surely Nation Ford cant pull off a fourth straight upset?
Pulling off the impossible makes them want to win more, Ramey said about his team, led by eight seniors. Nobody thinks were going to do this my guys have thrived on that.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T