The Chapin Eagles already had taken one title from Region 4 rival A.C. Flora before Tuesday night’s Class 3A Upper State final.
This time, A.C. Flora defeated Chapin 2-1 to earn the Upper State championship and a berth in Saturday’s state title game at River Bluff.
Falcons coach Matt Barry said, “The first two times we played them, all the pressure was on us.
“The first time we played them, we were No. 1 in the state, and the second time, we were No. 2. But this team is a little better when they have a chip on their shoulder, so coming in tonight as the underdog, they just embraced it. They worked their tails off and got the result we deserved.”
Tied 1-1 going into the second half, the Falcons (16-3-1) and Eagles played 20 scoreless minutes before Collins Walker notched the game-winning goal with a header off a throw in assist from Sean Geiger.
For the final 20 minutes, the Falcons fell back into a defensive stance. Barry said he wanted his team to protect its shot at the title by avoiding mistakes on defense, a problem in the teams’ earlier meetings.
Region 4 champion Chapin (12-7) had defeated Flora 2-1 and 3-0 in their two regular-season matches.
“Both previous games were close games that could have gone either way, so it didn’t matter to us that we had beaten them twice before,” said Chapin coach Ben Bosco, whose squad was ranked seventh in the state.
In the playoffs, the rivals took similar paths toward their final rematch. Chapin had allowed one goal per game in its first three playoff matches and had scored four or more goals in each. Region runner-up Flora, ranked ninth in the state, had outscored opponents 13-3 in the opening rounds of the tournament.
Said Bosco: “Games are won or lost on set pieces, and that’s kind of what it came down to tonight.”
A free kick set up the Falcons’ first goal.
Fifteen minutes in, Chapin rebuffed the Falcons’ direct kick, but A.C. Flora took the lead with Numera Sturgeon striking net on a putback from 20 yards out.
“Getting the first goal, and then being up instead of chasing them all game, definitely gave us lighter legs,” Barry said.
Chapin’s best shot in the first half came after the Eagles’ corner kick with 17 minutes to go in the period. The set play got the ball directly in front of the net, and a crowd of Falcons swatted the ball out to the left. There, Jack Starkey got a good angle for a crossing shot around the Falcons’ keeper, but a Flora defender was at the far post to deflect the shot.
“It was unfortunate that it got deflected, but the man on the back post was doing his job, and he was there for a reason,” Bosco said.
The Eagles did not get on the board until the final minute of the half. Flora was charged a penalty kick for a handball inside the box after a Chapin corner, and Turner Bonham put away the goal with an arcing shot that bounced off the keeper’s foot and into the side net.
“When it comes to A.C. Flora, it’s all sweet,” said Bosco, who was an assistant coach at Flora for three years. “It’s tough to see past the Chapin side tonight, because this is where my loyalty is now. But when it comes to Saturday, I’ll be rooting for A.C. Flora to win.”
“Today’s bittersweet no matter which side I’m on,” said Barry, who also was Bosco’s club soccer coach with S.C. United. “If he would have won, I’d definitely have been pulling for him on Saturday.”
The Falcons next will face St. James, a 5-1 winner over Myrtle Beach, for the Class 3A title on Saturday.