Northwestern High School soccer coach Dom Wren thought all weekend on what was the best way to attack rival Fort Mill in his team's Region 3-AAAA home showdown on Tuesday.
Wren would be missing two-thirds of his big three, leaving Alex Martinez as the Trojans' top threat. Ricky Garbanzo would miss the game because he's in England playing for an Olympic Developmental team.
He figured correctly that Dennis Moore would be missing in action with an ankle sprain, an injury Wren elected to disguise as a hurt knee when talking about it on Monday, just in case his talented senior was ready to play. Moore never left the bench.
So Wren did something he seldom does. He needed an edge because he wouldn't have his three stars charging the Yellow Jackets from every direction. Wren put in a plan designed to draw Fort Mill's defenders to Martinez with hopes of scoring off runs to the goal by his other players.
It worked to the tune of a 3-1 win for the No. 2-ranked Trojans, who moved to 17-2 overall and 7-0 in the region. Fort Mill, No. 4 in the poll, fell to 14-5 in all games and 5-2 in the region. Both league losses were administered by Northwestern, each by a two-goal margin.
The new play was put in for Jeremy Dobbins, who scored Northwestern's first two goals that held up for a 2-0 lead at the half.
"The plan was to send Alex inside on the right side and for me to make a run at the penalty kick line while he was heavily covered,'' Dobbins said. "Alex was supposed to pass the ball to me just as I got there so I could take shot. We spent a lot of time practicing it Monday and the first time we tried it was perfect, got us a goal.''
Fort Mill caught on quickly but the damage had been done. The Jackets realized they couldn't solely concentrate on Martinez, which paid off for the Trojans in the second half.
Northwestern's second goal was a beauty both ways. Dobbins headed a corner kick that appeared to be a sure goal. But Fort Mill goalie Harrison Cahill gave no ground and made the block. But the ball came back to Dobbins, who, before Cahill could react, headed it again.
The second header found the inside of Fort Mill's net and the Trojans led 2-0 with 12:33 left until halftime.
"Jeremy did a good job making his runs,'' Wren said. "We practiced it Monday until we got it right, then practiced it some more. What you saw was his reward for hard work.
"We had shape today on defense as a team. Each team had opportunities but Sam (Faris), our goalie, did a good job of keep them out of our net.''
The first goal of the second half came at the 33:10 mark. Martinez made another run over the right side of Fort Mill's goal but this time the Yellow Jackets made sure Dobbins was covered. So instead of passing outside, Martinez took a shot and made it for a 3-0 Trojans' lead.
Fort Mill was bruised but refused to be battered. The Yellow Jackets continued to play the game as they had all night and reached the scoreboard with 23:01 remaining. A good look had just resulted in another Northwestern stop, but the Yellow Jackets refused to quit. They finally got a ball past Faris on a goal from Casey Schneider.
"We played well the first 10 minutes and were even with them in the second half,'' Fort Mill coach Lloyd Chalker said. "What got us were the 30 minutes in between.
"We were guilty of letting Alex control the ball. Seeing that he could, Alex did what he does best, create and score.''
FORT MILL 1
NH -- Jeremy Dobbins, 28:41, Alex Martinez assist
NH - Dobbins 12:31, unassisted
NH -- Martinez 33:10, unassisted
FM - Casey Schneider, 23:01, unassisted
Shots on goal: Fort Mill 8. Northwestern 14
Corner kicks: Fort Mill 3. Northwestern 6
Goalies: Fort Mill - Harrison Cahill (2 saves), Tanner Landvick-Larsen (4 saves). Northwestern - Sam Faris (3 saves).
Records: Fort Mill 14-5, 5-2 Region 3-AAAA. Northwestern 17-2, 6-0 Region 3-AAAA