LANCASTER — Two evenly matched teams took the field Saturday as seventh-ranked Newberry travelled to Indian Land to face the second-ranked Warriors in the third round of the Class AA playoffs.
Both teams utilize strong defensive lines and both run a possession-focused offense instead of quick-wing attacks. Likewise, both teams had cruised through the early playoff rounds: Indian Land with an average winning margin of five (over Calhoun County and Mid-Carolina) and Newberry with an average victory margin of 6.5 goals per win (against Buford and Crescent).
The 18-5 Warriors, trying to make it to the state title game for the third consecutive year, had allowed more than 2 goals in only one match all season, while the 15-3 Bulldogs, on average, scored more than five goals per match.
In the first half, fans saw a couple of momentum shifts. The ‘Dogs started the game in their typical style, using tight passing to spread the defense and, for the first 20 minutes, the Bulldogs forced most of the action and were rewarded with several shots, although the Warrior defense was able to interfere enough to ensure their keeper made the saves.
Twelve minutes in, Indian Land managed to get close enough for a long, low strike to the right corner requiring a diving deflection save by Newberry keeper Alberto Rodriguez. The ‘Dogs defense easily cleared the ensuing corner kick to keep the score at 0-0.
The Warriors regrouped and were able to take the game toward the Bulldog end of the field during minutes 20 through 30. Indian Land used booming punts and goal kicks from their keeper to generate a significant portion of their opportunities down field.
At 23 minutes into the match, the Bulldogs nicely cleared a Warrior corner kick. At 25 minutes-in, the Warriors were awarded a free kick at 40 yards out, but the Newberry defense closed on the rebounding shooter, forcing him to send it high over the goal.
The momentum shifted again for minutes 30 through 40 as the Bulldogs went on the offensive. During stoppage play, Joel Alvarez was able to feed the ball to Erick Arroyo in the middle, who sent a screamer toward the net. The fully outstretched Indian Land goalie was just able to bat it down with one hand, while another Warrior was there to clear it from the box.
Only seconds later, the ‘Dogs took a play from the Indian Land book as they headed a goal kick from Rodriguez out to Jerry Ezesarte down field. Ezesarte moved to the right and fired another shot to the net. Once again, the Indian Land keeper made a solid save, and the half ended tied at 0-0.
Given the disproportionate number of shots on goal by the Bulldogs in the first half, the Newberry fans were optimistic the ‘Dogs would find some openings in the second half. Perhaps the Indian Land coaches were also concerned, as the Warriors appeared to shift one of their defenders to a more offensive position to start the second half.
The strategy worked in that, for the next eight minutes, the Warriors forced most of the action. However, the new scheme also opened the box for Newberry opportunities, and at 48 minutes into the game, Alvarez was fouled near mid-field by a lagging defender. The free kick was well-placed, but Newberry couldn’t get a shot out of the ensuing melee.
Minutes 50 through 60 saw some heated action and all of the night’s scores. At 50:24, a Warrior forward broke free for a one on one with Rodriguez on the left. Rodriguez chose to stay in the goal and minimize the target on the left. The Warrior shot to the left and missed to the left.
Less than a minute later, Umberto Alvarez took a long, low spinning shot from the right side. The Warrior keeper, who had moved to the goal side right in anticipation, had to reverse course and dive back to the left to save the hooking shot. Then, with 52:46 off the clock, Indian Land worked into the left corner and crossed back to the box where a waiting forward stuck it in the net for a 1-0 Warrior lead. Newberry maintained their composure and stuck with the ball-control game plan.
At 56:40, Arroyo struck hard from the right corner causing the ball to ricochet between keeper and defender until Ezesarte punched it in to tie the score at 1-1. Three minutes later, however, Indian Land found an opening in the middle near the top of the box and drilled a shot to put the Warriors on top 2-1.
The ‘Dogs continued their attack and, at 65:46, Arroyo drew a foul just outside the box. The resulting free kick missed high of the bar to keep the Indian Land lead at 2-1. At about the 70 minute mark, Indian Land moved back to their defensive posture, content to let the ‘Dogs bring the play to them.
The ‘Dogs repeatedly used footwork and passing to get the ball to the top of the box, but with the middle packed by defenders, they were unable to get many shots. Likewise, Bulldog attempts to lob the ball into the box were successfully thwarted by the able defensive line and goalie. The final whistle left the Bulldogs with a 2-1 loss in one of the hardest-fought and best played games of the year. The ‘Dogs end the season with a lot of pride and a record of 15 wins, four losses.
“It’s always tough when the season ends and you’re not the champion, but I am extremely proud of these guys. They worked hard all season, and to lose four games by a total of two goals shows you how good these players really are,” said Head Coach Cornelius Cromer. “I want to thank the seniors for their leadership as they hold a special place in my heart, being my first group of seventh graders to come all the way through the program. I wish them nothing but success.”