The Statesboro Blue Devils overcame a deficit twice in regulation and scored twice in overtime to earn their second state quarterfinal appearance in 25 years with a 4-2 victory over Jonesboro Tuesday at Womack Field.
Tied at 2-2 after full time, the teams played a pair of five-minute overtime periods.
With 37 seconds remaining in the first extra period, Cardinals goalkeeper Elijah Wade corralled a loose ball, but made an ill-advised pass to a defender just outside of the 18-yard box.
Statesboro sophomore Alex Wagner picked the defenders pocket and sent a low shot skidding into the net for a 3-2 advantage. With Jonesboro pressing its numbers forward as the final extra period ticked away, Wesley Budget got behind the defense and sealed the win inside of the final minute of play.
“This was an incredible game,” SHS coach Nick Thrower said. “Jonesboro is the toughest team we’ve played all season. It took a great effort all night to be able to get this win.”
The teams jockeyed for position throughout the majority of the first half before the Cardinals drew first blood.
Mannessah Campbell raced past the Devils’ back line and chipped a shot over SHS goalkeeper Drew Funk to claim a 1-0 lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Jonesboro held its lead well into the second half, but Wagner blasted in a shot from a tough angle on the right side to bring Statesboro even.
Roberto Artega put the Cardinals ahead again with a hard shot off his left foot from 20 yards out, but Statesboro pulled even again when a cross into the Jonesboro box first found a crowd before bouncing to Hector Angeles who beat Wade to the left post.
“We knew we’d be challenged,” Thrower said. “We knew that we might have to play from behind. We never got out of our game. In the second half, we played some of our best soccer and found a way to get the ball into the net.”
Funk was solid throughout the comeback effort, making six saves – including prime scoring chances at the end of regulation and in overtime.
The physical game saw a total of seven cards issued, but the Devils refused to yield on their home turf where their perfect record has now climbed to 10-0 on the season.
The gravity and excitement of the victory wasn’t lost on the large student contingent that cheered their classmates on over the course of the game. As soon as the postgame handshakes concluded, the Devils raced to the home sideline to celebrate with several dozen fans who had already made their way onto the field.
The home cooking will continue Friday as the Devils are the highest seed remaining on their side of the bracket and will host Southeast Whitfield – a 5-0 winner over Lumpkin County in its second round game.
“It’s going to be huge to get to play here again,” Thrower said. “We have great fans and great support. We’re really confident playing here and now we look to keep it going.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.