Defending state champion Irmo defeated long-time playoff rival Northwestern via a penalty kick shootout Thursday at W.C. Hawkins Stadium to advance to the third round of the 4A boys soccer state playoffs.
The third-ranked Yellow Jackets (23-3-1) travel to face No. 1 J.L. Mann on Saturday.
After 100 minutes of scoreless play in regulation and four overtime periods, it all came down to the PK sweepstakes. It was the same scenario when the two long-time rivals met in the final of Northwestern’s preseason tournament. The Trojans won that affair with a 4-3 shootout edge.
Irmo came up big in the more important outing. The Jackets went 5-for-5 in penalty kicks, and keeper Hunter Wager made the only save of the shootout on the Trojans’ fourth attempt. Brian Harding followed Wager’s decisive stop with the game winner.
“In the first match, I went to my right and they went left every time,” said Wager. “I made the decision to go left this time and they crossed me up again.”
Manny Loranzo, Ewin Salazar and Bailey Wooley all scored easily on Northwestern’s first three chances – putting the ball into the open side of the net while Wages dove left and came up with nothing but air. But it all chanced on Julian Welborn’s turn.
“My goalkeeper coaches told me not to make my move right away,” said Wages. “I held for an instant and reacted to the shot. It worked out pretty good.”
Preston Graczyk, Sam Padula, Temi Adesodun, Aaron Prim and Harding all connected without incident for Irmo.
“This had all the qualities of a state championship match,” said first-year Jackets coach Matt Brophy. “It was very much like the first time we played this year. We had chances and they had chances, but nobody could score. We were very fortunate to come away with the win.”
It was the seventh playoff meeting of the teams since 2003 – four times in the state finals.
Irmo eliminated the Trojans in the third round last season.
“We’ve come a long way since the start of the season,” said Brophy. “We did not play well in the first round on Monday, but the kids rose to the challenge tonight against a very good team.”