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GILBERT – Bishop England High School freshman Joel Bunting's golden goal was just that.
Bunting's nine-yard shot with 19 seconds left in the first of the two five-minute sudden-death overtime periods gave the Bishops a stunning 4-3 win over Indian Land for the Class AA state soccer championship at Gilbert High School's Leon Price Field on Saturday, May 18.
"Mateo (B-E senior captain Mateo Gomez) played the ball and it came right to my foot and I just kicked it in," Bunting said of his decisive kick, which gave the Lower State champion Bishops the state title trophy and coveted gold medals.
The winning score, which came at the 1:04.41 mark of the marathon match – regulation, two 10-minute overtimes and 4:41 of the sudden-death five-minute period, capped an emotional clash.
The winning Bishops players, from the visitors' bench, rushed to the home right corner of the field to mob their newest hero Bunting, while the bulk of the dejected Warriors slumped to the turf with the tough loss.
"They slipped through our defense and put one in," IL senior captain Anthony Cutrone said. "This felt worse than last year."
A year ago in the Class AA state title match, the Warriors dropped a 5-0 loss to Academic Magnet, but the determined IL team made a strong run this spring to return to the title match and post the school's first-ever boys sports state championship.
Early on, it appeared the Warriors were going to make IL athletic history.
Indian Land, the Class AA Upper State champion for the second straight season, bolted to a 2-0 lead some 12 minutes into the match as Warriors' senior Nick Retter scored off an Eric Sandor assist for a 1-0 edge.
IL freshman Garrett Gerdes, from Retter, scored on a header for a 2-0 Warriors' lead.
"We had a different feeling this year," IL coach Adam Cole said. "We came out ready and we proved it."
Then, the 17-7-1 Bishops, coming off an emotional 1-0 Lower State title win decided on penalty kicks over Charleston area rival Academic Magnet, answered.
Some 12 minutes into the match, Bunting, the Bishops' match-ending hero, scored to close the gap, 2-1.
"Indian Land got those two goals on us, but we regrouped," B-E coach Ed Khouri said. "There was still a lot of time left. The game of soccer is long. That first goal kinda got the momentum going back for us."
Shortly after Bunting's first tally, Gomez got on track for the Bishops.
He connected off an Andrew Costa assist to tie the match at 2-all at the 16:58 mark. Then just over a minute later, Gomez scored to give the Bishops their first lead, 3-2.
But the Warriors came back, with Cutrone scoring off a direct kick to stalemate the match at 3-all.
From that point, it became an intense battle on a warm afternoon. The heat, as the match wore on, was a factor and the physical battle often resulted in players down on both side while contesting the ball.
"It was a tough match and we expected it," Khouri said. "Indian Land wasn't going to lay down."
The Warriors' defense, led by senior keeper Trevor Hoxworth and sophomore Shea Rodgers, kept the Warriors in the game.
The first half ended in a 3-all tie and there was no more scoring in the 40-minute second half, two 10-minute overtimes and for 4:41 of the first five-minute sudden death period.
Then, with only 19 seconds to play, Bunting scored to ignite the Bishops to celebrate their 16th state championship, astute record. The spent Warriors, reeling from the hard-fought defeat, fought back tears.
"I'm glad we made it this far," Hoxworth said. "Going all the way to state and still coming up short is a worse feeling."
Though disappointed, Cole said the 19-5 Warriors gave it their best shot only to come up short.
"We played our hearts out and it came down to the wire," Cole said. "The ball fell in the right spot for them. This was a great season and we fully expected to get here.
"They will remember they played in this."