With 40 minutes and a Nation Ford team between the Irmo Yellow Jackets and the Class 4A state soccer championship game, the Yellow Jackets seemed to flip a switch.
After a scoreless first half of the state semifinal game at W.C. Hawkins Stadium, Irmo turned up its offense and powered to a 3-1 victory.
“The one thing this team hasn’t done all season is come from behind, and they did that tonight,” Irmo coach Phil Savitz said.
Two minutes into the second half, Nation Ford took the lead, knocking in a shot over the heads of Irmo’s defenders as they recovered from a previous shot.
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“You could just see, instead of being scared that they were going to lose the game, that they were just determined to win the game,” Savitz said of his team, which answered seven minutes later.
Under pressure, the Yellow Jackets put together their most cohesive offense of the night and, after a throw-in from 20-yards out, finished their attack with a header from Michael Sawyer off an assist from Preston Graczyk.
Then, with 25 minutes left, Irmo moved ahead when Caleb Jenkins’ shot, off a throw-in assist, glanced off the fingertips of the Nation Ford keeper inside the near post.
Goal No. 3, courtesy of Matt Smith, set the final score with nine minutes remaining.
Savitz said his team was outplayed in the first half, “not dominated, but we were lucky to get out of it 0-0.”
But in the second half, his Yellow Jackets played like the team they believed all season that they were.
“They’ve endured so much criticism and doubt this season,” he said. “Everybody’s doubting this team, doubting their leadership, doubting their heart.
“But never did they lose faith, never did they lose heart, never did they give up.”
“Nobody outside of the Irmo family was thinking that this team was doing something special, but I hope they are thinking differently now,” he said.
For Savitz, as for the team’s nine seniors, it was the final game at W.C. Hawkins Stadium. After 33 years at Irmo, Savitz is leaving the program to coach at the new River Bluff High in Lexington.
His final game with the Yellow Jackets will be the state championship game on Saturday against Lexington at Gilbert.