PHIL SAVITZ ONLY briefly joined in the celebration that erupted among Irmo High players and coaches immediately after Mattison Gossett’s game-winning goal on penalty kicks Saturday night at Gilbert High.
When you win 14 state Class 4A championships at one school, maybe the postgame parties become old hat. Or maybe you learn after 23 state championship-game appearances how to temper your emotions. Or perhaps you are just a classy coach.
Instead of joining his team’s dog pile and before exchanging hugs with players and coaches, Savitz headedy toward a Lexington High team that was sprawled in various states of disbelief and dejection at midfield.
First, Savitz shook hands with Lexington coach Will Gettys, whose club played like a team that makes annual trips to the title game instead of a club that was making the school’s first appearance on the big stage.
Then Savitz began consoling the inconsolable Lexington players, one by one.
“You don’t have anything to hang your head about,” he told one after another, most never lifting their heads as they hid sobs in their jerseys.
As much as this championship game was billed as being about Savitz and his swan song after 33 years at Irmo, the legendary coach of 634 wins has been around long enough to know the sport remains about the kids.
That was not going to be lost on Savitz, even after adding yet another notch on his championship belt.
“That was two dynamite teams giving everything they had, both of them giving every ounce of energy, every ounce of effort and in the end, the bottom line was penalty kicks decided it,” he said.
Neither team could gain an edge through 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime and 10 minutes of sudden-death play. The game was played at an extremely high level with solid defense, occasional attacks on goal and ferocious intensity.
Despite the high stakes in a game between old rivals that both claim to live on the “right side” of the Lake Murray Dam, the game was virtually void of chippy play. Two yellow cards were issued.
“This is what high school sports are all about,” Savitz said.
Adding to the game’s drama were the dueling Cinderella stories. Lexington lost nine games and tied another during the regular season. It marched through the playoffs as a fourth seed. Irmo lost its final three regular-season games to match the most losses (8) by a Savitz-coached team.
Yet, two teams not expected to be in the title game put on a spectacular show of soccer prowess. If it were not for the rules that require penalty kicks to determine the outcome, the teams could have played all night.
The further the game went, the more it appeared that fate was not on Lexington’s side. One Lexington shot hit the crossbar in the first half, and a second-half shot blasted against the left post before the ball bounded in front of the net and out of play.
“It just ended up not being our night, I guess,” Gettys said.
Then it came down to the final penalty kick with Gossett staring at Lexington goalkeeper Jacob Parton, who guarded the net behind him all night as if he were protecting a bank vault.
“Is this the winning kick?” Gossett asked the referee as the ball was set in place.
“That’s the rumor,” the ref replied.
“I like that rumor.”
As he always does, Gossett aimed the ball toward the left corner of the net. Just as he had done with an earlier Irmo penalty kick, Parton blocked it.
Then the strangest thing happened. The ball bounded away from Parton, and with some apparent reverse spin, it rolled and rolled and gradually trickled its way across the goal line.
“I pointed at it and it rolled in. That’s the story,” Gossett said. “Destiny rolled that ball in.”
That destiny left one team crying tears of joy, the other unloading tears of despair, and a coach recognizing it was time to put aside his accomplishment to comfort the opposing team.