All year, Northwestern and Irmo had matched each other stride for stride.
But only Northwestern walked away perfect.
In a battle of unbeatens and the top two teams in the country according to ESPN Rise Magazine and USA Today, the Trojans (24-0) beat the Yellow Jackets 3-1 to claim the Class 4A state championship.
“It was a great battle,” said Northwestern coach Dominic Wren, who has guided the Trojans to three championships in four seasons. “In the first half it was a tossup. Both teams wanted it that bad; you could see the passion, what high school sports is all about.”
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After the break, the Trojans turned up the heat, firing four shots on goal in a 13-minute span.
With 26:12 left to play, the Trojans finally solved Rob Sullivan. Alexis Martinez’s shot from 10 yards out dinged off the right post, but Ricardo Garbanzo kicked the ricochet into the center of the net before Sullivan could recover to put the Trojans ahead 1-0.
Northwestern then put the game out of reach, adding two goals in one-minute span.
At the 19:11 mark, Garbanzo scored a second goal before Enzo Martinez, the state’s all-time career scoring leader, added a goal with 18:16 to go, getting an angle on Sullivan at the front of the box and scoring behind him.
Irmo finally cracked the scoring column with just over 17 minutes to go when Zach Acree booted in a penalty kick following a Northwestern foul in the box.
But despite their fleet feet and sharp passing, the Yellow Jackets could not mount a cohesive attack. The Trojans’ defense choked off any scoring threat, and the Yellow Jackets struggled to get past midfield in the game’s final minutes.
Irmo coach Phil Savitz praised his team, especially the seniors, for fighting until the end.
“We had 10 seniors that played their hearts out, and for whatever reason, it just wasn’t meant to be tonight,” said Savitz, who was leading his team in the finals for the 20th time.
“It was even for 70, 75 minutes, but for eight to 10 minutes they turned it up and whatever mistakes we make they capitalized on it. And that’s what great teams do,” he said.
It was the most anticipated game of the season, a mythic matchup of two perfect teams.
Between the two teams, the Trojans and Yellow Jackets had scored 296 goals, allowed 20 and posted 32 shutouts and 46 victories. They went through the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2, drawing national attention and inspiring talk of the best championship game in state history.
Fans from both teams tailgated in the parking lot hours before the kickoff, and the line snaked through the parking lot and around the block as they filed into the 8,000-seat stadium, which was at near-capacity.
“It was no pressure,” Enzo Martinez said. “It was a chance that we got to come out and prove that we are the No. 1 team in nation, and we did it.”
Martinez finished with 39 goals for the season, 182 for his career. The Trojans set the state record for fewest goals allowed in a season.
Irmo finished 23-1 and No. 2 in the state.
“I’m proud of these kids, their effort, the leadership, the heart of this team. The outcome tonight doesn’t effect the way I feel about this team,” Savitz said.
Goals: Ricardo Garbanzo (N) 2, Enzo Martinez (N), Zach Acree (I).
Click below for a replay of a live blog held during the game.