BARTRAM TRAIL – Oakleaf High School has been chasing the coat tails of county rival Fleming Island High in more than one sport; most recently boys soccer, where the Knights have historically been …
BARTRAM TRAIL – Oakleaf High School has been chasing the coat tails of county rival Fleming Island High in more than one sport; most recently boys soccer, where the Knights have historically been eliminate from playoff contention from the Golden Eagles, but Wednesday night’s district 4-4A semifinal game finally went the other way as Oakleaf stole a 2-1 overtime win to extinguish the Golden Eagles attempt at a Class 4A championship repeat.
“We’ve been waiting for four years for this day,” said Oakleaf High senior Andrew Henderson, who took a pass from outside midfielder Braden Ammon about 20 yards in front and left of Fleming Island goalie Omar Zermeno then pounded the gamewinner in the first “Golden Goal” in overtime after both teams fought to a 1-1 tie in regulation time. “Every time we get close, they have been the one to keep us from the playoffs. Not tonight.”
Oakleaf, in its first-ever region playoff berth, both district finalists advance to
region play, will face Creekside in Friday’s championship game. Creekside beat host Bartram Trail 1-0 in the second game of the semifinal night. On Mon., Jan., 29, Oakleaf advanced with a win over Nease while Creekside beat St. Augustine in quarterfinals action.
Fleming Island, previously unbeaten, but tied, most recently a 2-2 tie with Fletcher on Fri., Jan. 26 that caused concern for coach Michael Green.
“We were not clearing the ball from in front of the net,” said Green, after the Golden Eagles roared back from a 2-0 halftime lead against Fletcher to salvage the tie. “Tonight, (against Oakleaf), we had our opportunities, but we could not get the ball in the net.”
Fleming Island, quickly moved for the first shot of the game straight from the opening kickoff, opened the night with a quick strike score in the first five minutes of the game with forward Lucas Hauth pounding Oakleaf goalie Marcos Acosta with a left-to-right shot that Acosta knocked down in front of the goal. With no defenders near him, Fleming Island’s opposite side forward, Evan Parks, retrieved the ball and popped it over the felled Acosta on the ground.
“I told them to just stay with the momentum and not lose their game,” said Oakleaf High first year coach Matt Holyoke, also a key Clay County Soccer Club coach. “All the guys on this field play with and against each other at the club level so the intensity is very high. We knew all season that it might come to this game.”
What appeared to be a soon-to-be Fleming Island scoring barrage as in past seasons; with the Golden Eagles scorers ignited for a surge of goals in their history, Holyoke’s plan was simply to deter Fleming Island forward Reed Davis, a 52-goal scorer this season, from making his bend into the goalie box. Oakleaf defensive ace Nash-Xavier Philogere, throughout the night, ran side-by-side with Davis so as to prevent the scoring ace from having a clear path to Acosta in goal.
“Our strategy was to attack their feet and get the ball away from them before they could get their shot off,” said Philogere. “No doubt, it was a team effort and coach Holyoke gave us good coaching.”
Oakleaf showed off a patient offensive set after the intial Fleming Island goal with Henderson, Ammon and Jarron Cintron hovering just outside the Golden Eagle’s perimeter defense, led by Connor Davis and Brad McMahon. Oakleaf’s outside forward Albert Cooper made continuous quick-slant runs into the Fleming Island goal box trying to get a free shot.
On one Cooper slant, the slick grass put Cooper on the grass but gave Oakleaf a corner kick that resulted in some chatting among players and Henderson getting a yellow card and quick exit from the game for a play.
After Fleming Island lost senior defender Noah Hamlett to an ankle injury earlier in the game, Oakleaf took quick advantage of the Golden Eagles having inexperience on the defensive front. Cooper, on another striker attempt from right to left, got tangled up with defender Joshua Cook and dropped just inside the 18 yard line to set up a penalty kick.
“Coach didn’t want me to take the kick, but I wanted it,” said Cooper, who set up for the kick near the 22 minute mark of the first half. “Coach wanted Ammon to take it and told him I wanted the ball. I’m the senior and I wanted the game on my back.”
Cooper faced off against Zermeno and drilled the ball into the left corner to tie the game at 1-1.
“I usually don’t like the guy who gets penalized to take the kick because they get all emotional from the penalty, but Cooper insisted and waved off the other guys,” said Holyoke. “He did his job and we got a break.”
After the emotional lift to the Knights’ sideline, both teams exchanged near-miss scoring bolts, but the half ended still locked at 1-1.
“Noah is such a seasoned player back there and that play hurt us,” said Green.
In the second half, the ball movement was fast and furious with Oakleaf well-aware of the Golden Eagle’s second half splurges of goals and Fleming Island cognizant of the Oakleaf athleticism on the field as the ball traveled up and down the field with speed and power.
In the final 20 minutes of regulation time, Oakleaf stayed with their slow sideline-to-sideline game just inside the Fleming Island side of the 50 yard line with the Golden Eagles trying to put Davis in position to end the game.
“We were well aware of Davis’ ability to win games from last year with three gamewinners in their state run,” said Holyoke. “We cut the field in half on him. I feel bad for him because he’s a talented player.”
With Hauth attacking the sidelines of the Oakleaf defense and Davis hovering near the middle of the field, Fleming Island tried to find open space for a quick score but missed twice within inches of the crossbar on centered shots.
Oakleaf countered with pickpocket defense and breakaways moves, but could not convert as well as both defense ejected center passes to the out of bounds sidelines.
At 12:45 to go, Fleming Island got a free kick about 35 yards out that Cook launched the kick toward Oakleaf’s goal, but Oakleaf defender Milan White ejected the ball downfield in front of Cooper on the sideline. Cooper, in full stride, nearly broke behind Fleming Island’s defense, but midfielder Garrett Godfrey stole the ball away near midfield.
Davis kept the pressure on Acosta with a centered shot that created a corner kick that was followed by a Fleming Island throw-in deep in Oakleaf territory. Davis got defensed by Oakleaf’s Damien Rogers and lost control as Cooper again found open field on the clearing kick.
Oakleaf got a throw-in deep in Fleming Island territory but could not convert with Davis finding a seam and pounding Acosta in the face with a hard shot with about nine minutes left in overtime.
“We had enough guys in the box that he had to come straight at me,” said Acosta. “I have four years of knowing that they would come hard in the overtime.”
With six minutes to go, Hauth missed just inches left with a shot across the Oakleaf goal mouth.
Just 15 seconds later, Hauth got a second shot in front of Acosta but Philogere snuffed the shot just off Hauth’s foot.
Fleming Island got a free kick near the sideline about 30 yards away from the Oakleaf goal and Golden Eagles got a wicked center shot straight from Jakob Hastie at Acosta and high that Acosta fingertip-pushed over the cross bar in one of the closest near-goals of the night.
In the overtime, with first goal being a gamewinner, Fleming Island pushed into the Oakleaf zone and had McMahon as point man near the 50 to keep the ball from releasing downfield.
One quick escape for Ammons and Henderson was blocked by Zermeno, but the duo repeated the attack moments later for the game winner with just two minutes off the clock.