Soccer can be such an unforgiving game. It’s often times decided less by who controls the match and more by who successfully converts in the rare opportune moments.
Such was the case as defending AA state champion Academic Magnet, now the top-ranked team in AAA, edged No. 2 Bishop England, 1-0, Thursday at Jack Cantey Stadium on Daniel Island.
Bishop England controlled possession the majority of the night, ripping off 25 shots on goal. But with a stout defensive effort from Academic Magnet’s backline and a brilliant performance in goal from junior keeper Benji Vazquez, the Raptors survived for their first win over the Bishops since 2015.
“We had our opportunities,” Bishop England coach Ed Khouri said. “We created opportunities, you know? But that’s the game.”
Bishop England standout senior James Cox was especially aggressive in the first half, ripping off shot after shot from both close range and distance only to be denied time and again by Vazquez, who stopped six shots in the first half. Cox finished the game with eight shots on goal for the Bishops, who'd scored 26 goals through their first eight games of the season.
“Benji played an unbelievable game,” Academic Magnet coach Jason Hamil said. “We knew what (Cox) could bring to the table. As soon as he beat a guy, the next guy stepped in. We played a good solid defensive concept as a team. I thought we handled the speed on the wings pretty well. Our center backs were strong. Our defense was the difference.”
Bishops sophomore forward Miller Stokes had a clean one-on-one run against Vazquez stopped by a close offsides call with four minutes left in the opening half. Stokes was dealt a yellow card and exited the game.
Academic Magnet restarted with a long punt downfield that Dylan O’Dell corralled off a bounce and directed into the net. It was one of just a few quality looks the Raptors had against Bishops keeper Josh Adams, who played an otherwise clean game with seven saves.
“Dylan read the skip really well off that,” Hamil said. “It was just that kind of game. He read the play, read the ball coming in perfect and put it away.”
Bishop England ripped a shot off the post in the opening minutes of the second half and moments later had a loose ball spin free in front of the goal line without converting.
Stokes later had a deep rip into the upper left corner stopped by Vazquez. Jacob Shirmer then had a header appear to be headed into the net before Mason Bishop got a foot on it. Chris Richardson nearly squeezed in the equalizer with 12 minutes left but Vazquez caught it with a diving save.
Cox pounded a shot into the top corner that just missed with under 10 minutes to play. He had a direct kick deflected high and, with time running out in the final two minutes, placed a corner in front of the net for a Bishops header that flew over top.
“We knew they were going to come at us at the end,” Hamil said. “Benji came up big when we needed him.”
Academic Magnet (7-1-1) and Bishop England (6-2-1) will meet again April 2 in West Ashley, likely with Region 7-AAA on the line.