Kevin Garces’ two goals settled Tuesday night’s boys’ soccer rivalry tilt at Nation Ford.
The Falcons and Fort Mill both entered Tuesday night’s match ranked in the 4A top-10, the Yellow Jackets at No. 9 and fresh off wins over Northwestern and Clover, and Nation Ford No. 6 and scoring goals for fun.
But the contest didn’t end up as close as first thought, Garces and the Falcons’ air-tight defense proving the difference.
Nation Ford has Michael Smith marshaling the back line, and Andrew Sharp has slotted in for senior Kai Hagen, who broke his leg a couple of weeks ago. Nation Ford coach Jon Jarrett credited Sharp for helping Nation Ford (9-1) not miss a beat in the back.
“I’m getting shivers thinking about it. He didn’t deserve that to happen to him,” Jarrett said about Hagen. “Give credit to Andrew Sharp for stepping in. Sharp has stepped up and played very well in the back with Mike.”
The first 10 minutes were an even tug of war. Nation Ford got the game’s first shot on goal 11 minutes in, Brad Young thumping a free kick from the edge of the 18-yard box that Fort Mill keeper Gavin McCraw held.
Nation Ford grew into the game quicker than its rivals and Garces nearly slipped Ben Tuipulotu in on goal, a Fort Mill foot breaking up the chance.
Two minutes later, Nation Ford was in front 1-0. Blake Baker’s pass found Garces, who side-stepped a defender and stroked the ball past McCraw to put the Falcons in front.
Garces’ second goal - a beauty - sealed the deal about 10 minutes into the second half. Ben Tuipulotu flicked on with his head and Garces controlled, opening his hips before firing into the open left corner of the net.
“He’s good and we didn’t defend him well,” said Fort Mill coach Sean Fielden. “We gave him his left foot every time.”
Nation Ford posted its eighth shutout in 13 games and scrimmages this spring.
Zain Kazmi got Fort Mill’s first shot on target about 25 minutes into the game and there weren’t many more after. Fort Mill was disjointed in attack and lacked the safety route that Nation Ford has in Garces. A hopeful hoist down the field turned several instances where Nation Ford was pinned back by the Yellow Jackets into an instant offensive chance at the other end through the speedy Garces.
Nation Ford captain and center back Michael Smith was a rock in the Falcons’ defense. He’s been a huge reason for the Falcons’ stinginess in the first month of the season and helped his team keep a lid on talented Fort Mill attacker Mark Kaplan.
“Michael’s the heart beat on the field, giving them non-stop information,” said Jarrett. “You’re always asking kids to do it and they rarely do.”
At the other end of the field, Garces was a pest whether he was running over the top and stretching Fort Mill’s back line, or tucking into the space afforded him by the Yellow Jackets’ respect for his pace.
“Last year he deferred sometimes to seniors and he had more field goals than goals,” said Jarrett. “This year, he’s brought it down and he’s scoring at a pretty good pace.”
Fort Mill hosts Rock Hill Friday night, while Nation Ford is back in action on Wednesday, at Gaffney. Fort Mill and Nation Ford meet again April 8 at Bob Jones Stadium.
Nation Ford 2, Fort Mill 0
NF: Kevin Garces (17, 50)
Shutout: Cooper Morris