In a feeling that’s getting all too familiar, Indian Land fell in the 2A boys’ soccer state championship game Saturday afternoon, 4-1 to Charleston’s Academic Magnet.
The Warriors finished second in the state for the fourth straight season, an unprecedented run in South Carolina high school soccer. The two sides were even at halftime, but Academic Magnet’s goal five minutes into the second half caved the Warriors’ staunch resistance in the steamy heat at River Bluff High School.
“The second goal just completely deflated us,” said Indian Land coach Adam Cole. “We never recovered from it.”
The Warriors, who lost state title games to Academic Magnet in 2012 and 2014, suffered from the absence of All-State center midfielder Garrett Gerdes. He injured his ankle earlier in the playoffs and hadn’t played the last three games. He tried to gut out a performance Saturday, but had to come off after about five minutes. Indian Land also dealt with senior striker Jordan Szustwal getting bloodied by a high arm from an Academic Magnet player, and Roscoe Lovejoy going down late.
“He wasn’t himself,” said Cole. “And with Jordan catching an elbow early, and Roscoe (Lovejoy) going down there, it hurt us.”
Gerdes returned later in the half, but a jarring collision sent him to the sidelines for the rest of the match, robbing the Warriors of their point guard in the middle of the pitch.
“He’s an unbelievably good player,” said Academic Magnet coach Jason Hamil. “He gave us fits last year in this game. I think having him out, I think it definitely impacted them, especially in the first half. I think in the second half our depth got at them a little bit.”
Indian Land pushed the Raptors all the way in last season’s final before falling 1-0. This year’s game got away from the Warriors in the second half, a surprise given the parity in the first. Academic Magnet’s talented group of attacking players consistenly came up against a solid Indian Land defensive wall.
The Raptors continually fed talented left-footed winger Nick Nybo; he and Warrior All-State right back Shea Rodgers had a good 1-on-1 scrap throughout. It was Academic Magnet’s Colton Frankel had the first clear chance of the game, when he slipped behind the Indian Land defense and headed on a long ball from the back. Warriors keeper Luke Harris’ chest kept the ball out.
Indian Land’s Szustwal then had to leave the field covered in his blood. His strike partner, fellow senior Justin Penn, nearly opened the scoring several minutes later, out-pacing two Raptor defenders and rounding the keeper. But Penn’s touch took him too wide and he had no company in the box; eventually his shot was blocked out for a corner kick.
Penn’s speed and perseverance troubled the Raptors all game, but it was stealth that saw him nearly put Indian Land in front. Rodgers thumped a free kick from midfield into the box and Penn, who peeled off the last defender, saw his flicked header clawed out by the keeper for a corner.
Just as Indian Land looked to be in the ascendancy, Academic Magnet took a 1-0 lead. Senior Reece Moore towered above everyone else to head in Dylan Robinson’s corner to put the Raptors in front with about eight minutes left in the first half.
It took about two minutes for Indian Land to tie the score. Szustwal, returned to the action with a clean jersey, latched on to Penn’s floated touch, and nicked the ball past the onrushing goalie to make it 1-1 just before the half.
There was everything to play for in the second half, but Indian Land quickly lost its grip on the match. Five minutes into the second half, Nybo beat Warriors keeper Harris to a long throw into the box and headed in for a 2-1 Raptors’ advantage.
“We knew, just with the number of players we were able to roll in this year, we knew that in the second half - with the heat, on the turf, on the big field - that if we could get back in front,” said Hamil, “then they would have to come out and chase the game and that would open them up even more.”
Moore was on the score sheet again with 21 minutes left in the match. The senior tapped in from close-range after creative work on the right wing from Zach Reineke.
Warrior heads dropped in the heat after that goal. Moore’s hat-trick goal, a lashed finish after Nybo picked him out unmarked in the box, was uncharacteristic of an Indian Land team that was defensively stout much of the year. At the final whistle, six Warrior seniors were left to confront the oddity of finishing second-best four straight years.
“To hang with them at halftime and what we did last year, it says a lot about what the kids have accomplished,” said Cole.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T