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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 5-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,” said Bunting 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,” said IL senior captain Anthony Cutrone. “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 determined IL made a strong run this spring to return to the title match and post the 85-year-old school’s first-ever boys sports state championship.
Early on, it appeared the Warriors were going to make Indian Land High School 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, off an Eric Sandor assist, scored 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,” Indian Land High 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,” Khouri said.
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.
Back came the Warriors, 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 sides 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 it.
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 in celebration of their state record 16th state championship.
The spent Warriors’ players, reeling with the hard-fought defeat, fought back tears and many embraced each other.
“I’m glad we made it this far,” Hoxworth said. “Going all the way to the state and still coming up short is a worse feeling.”
Cole, though disappointed, said the 19-5 Warriors gave it their best short 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.”