Fort Mill Times

OLD SCHOOL RULES: Fort Mill takes region win

Fort Mill's JT Mula leaps over Nation Ford's Conor Agnew to get his head on a loose ball during the Jackets' 2-0 win at Nation Ford.
Fort Mill's JT Mula leaps over Nation Ford's Conor Agnew to get his head on a loose ball during the Jackets' 2-0 win at Nation Ford.

For almost 60 minutes, Nation Ford's boys soccer team, with everything it had, took a powerful Fort Mill team out of its game and held on to a scoreless tie.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, high school soccer matches are 80 minutes.

Fort Mill took control in the final 20 minutes, knocking in a pair of goals on its way to a much-needed 2-0 region victory last Tuesday night.

"I think we just wore them down," Fort Mill Head Coach Lloyd Chalker said. "We knew this would be a high emotion game - that they would pressure us. We didn't play our game at all in the first half, but the second half was much better."

The Yellow Jackets' first goal, coming just before the 60th minute, was scored on a breakaway - so quickly that spectators who looked away for a moment turned back to see the ball in the back of the net.

Fort Mill forward Jordan Keaton split two Nation Ford defenders in a race to corral the ball after a deep pass, which he did in the middle of the field about 20 feet in front of the Falcons' net. Keaton one-touched the ball, floating it just over the outstretched arms of Falcons goalkeeper Carson King for the go-ahead goal.

"Honestly, I just tried as hard as I could to get to the ball," Keaton said. "I actually lost it for a second, then I found it again and scored."

Chalker said he was impressed with Keaton's shot selection, choosing to loft the ball into the goal rather than trying to fire a shot past the keeper.

"It was a great finish. We talk a lot about composure in front of the net. It was nice to see that," Chalker said.

Fort Mill's second goal came about 10 minutes later when midfielder Josh Mercadel cut into the middle of the field and angled a shot into the goal, pushing the final margin to two goals.

"Way to take your emotion and make it count," Chalker told his team after the match, a win that Fort Mill needed as a moral victory as much as a win in the standings.

The Jackets were coming off back-to-back two-goal losses in physically draining, rain-soaked matches, one to region powerhouse Northwestern and another to South Pointe in a tournament in Rock Hill, their first two losses of the season.

After a week of persistent wet weather that has drenched the Southeast, many of the players were feeling the effects of that as well.

"A couple of us are playing through illnesses but we worked through it and got back on track," team captain Tyler Vukoder said. "This was an important region win and a rivalry game. We knew they would come out with a lot of intensity and we would have to match it- and we did."

Vukoder said he thought the second half effort was what made the difference in the match.

"Our intensity was up and everything started clicking for us. After we got that first goal, the rest came to us," he said.

Jackets attacker Chris Landvik-Larsen was a constant threat in front of the Nation Ford goal, creating havoc in the Falcons' defense and breaking away from defenders for multiple scoring chances.

Nation Ford had a few scoring chances of its own as well.

Late in the first half, Fort Mill's goalkeeper had to jump almost to the crossbar and use one hand to knock away a ball that appeared to be bending into the net from the corner.

Although Nation Ford dropped the match, Falcons Head Coach Elton Ramey said he was impressed with the way his team performed.

"I feel like they put out a tremendous effort tonight - great effort," Ramey said. "We took Fort Mill out of their game for most of the night and we kept with our game plan. Our midfielders were our strong point. They did a good job of keeping control."

For the entire first half and the beginning of the second half, most of the action took place in the midfield with neither team making any major mistakes but neither team taking clear possession for long periods of time.

The teams raced up and down the field at an extremely fast pace, in an extremely high-energy match.

Since their off-season conditioning, Ramey said his team has taken pride in their fitness level, an area of the game that typically givesthem an advantage. He said that was offset against the Jackets.

"The fitness level of Fort Mill surprised me. They were the first team this year to hang with us," Ramey said.

"I thought they started slowing down at the end of the half but they came back out rejuvenated. They must have had a good halftime speech."

Chalker said the real second half improvement had to do with ball control.

"What we talked about at the half was putting the ball down, keeping it out of the air. They were pressuring us a lot and we needed to pressure them back," he said.

The win, coupled with a 1-0 win over Clover Friday night, pushed the Jackets' record to 7-2-1 (3-1 in the region).

"For us, it was really important to come out and get a win," Keaton said. "We all trust each other now. Basically, everybody trusts everybody else on the field. It's a good team chemistry."

Up next for Fort Mill is a trip to Gaffney Friday, then a week off before they take a trip to Oak Ridge, Tenn. April 17 to take part in the Barry Redmond Invitational, a 14-team tournament featuring top teams from three states.