Thursday night’s game between No. 1 Foothill and No. 3 J Serra came down to this – Jake Haigh sprinting up the field on a fast break and passing to Drew Boyd who spun for a 2-foot goal. The play, late in the fourth quarter of Foothill High’s stunning come from behind 13-8 win against previously undefeated JSerra at Tustin High, demonstrated the Knights’ greatest asset this year; Depth with a capital D. Haigh, a highly regarded reserve midfielder with a full tank of gas, sprints through one of the most talented teams in the county and finds Boyd (a senior attack, having one of the best games of his varsity career with three goals and two assists) to put an exclamation point on the Foothill victory. Not many coaches enjoy the luxury of watching a reserve midfielder making that kind of a play against a team as talented as J Serra.
It was that depth along with resilience and strength that brought home this victory for Foothill. JSerra, physical as always and taking it to the Knights early and often, turned a 2-2 tie into a 7-3 lead at the 6:42 mark of the second quarter. This was the first time the two teams had played since last year’s Orange County Championship won by Foothill, and JSerra came prepared. A score off a rebound and a quick inside move gave Matt Karzak two goals and the largest lead JSerra would have all night.
Then came Foothill All-American attack Nate Marano (Denver). He had his game-high four goals in the second quarter, the last coming when he pushed through a defender from behind the goal to narrow the score to 7-6. Attack Kevin Kodzis (Holy Cross) tied the game 7-7 with a falling-down, shot-between-two-defenders. Kodzis would finish with three goals and an assist, including a man-up score that clinched the game, 11-8, with 6:31 left. JSerra seemed to claim the momentum going into halftime when Jake Schleppy (High Point) beat Ryan Blank (St. John’s) and two Foothill defenders with :05 on the clock to give the Lions an 8-7 edge at the intermission.
Few would have placed bets that Schleppy’s goal would be the last one of the night for the Lions, but it was. Depth, resilience and Boyd’s quickness and ball control all played a role in the turnaround. As the second half progressed, Foothill’s depth kept fresh legs in the game while JSerra began to tire and accumulate penalties.
The Foothill defense, which may have reached a pinnacle of effectiveness for its second-half play, took over. Long pole defenders Matt Marano, Spencer Davis and Danny Carter gained control of the big and strong JSerra attacks. Blank, with 11 saves, kept the goal safe. And defensive middies Chris Reem, with four ground balls and a forced turnover, and Nathan Knight, both taking punishment but keeping the ball in play, controlled the middle part of the field.
The play from Haigh to Boyd began with a forced turnover and pass by Matt Marano, who had a game-high seven ground balls. The score was 12-8 at that point, with 2:23 left. Junior middie Matt Harris scored on a fiery time-and-space shot to wrap up the scoring.
JSerra goalie Beau Largent kept his team in the game until late, with 14 saves. James Yanes (Hofstra) finished with his seventh hat trick in eight games. Schleppy had two goals and Logan Carroll and Logan Olmsted also scored.
Foothill, 11-0, also had scores from attacks Nathan Skeen and freshman Ellis Geis.
Next up: Foothill (11-0) hosts No. 7 Great Oak before heading to Boston for spring break to play some of the top teams in Massachusetts. No. 3 J Serra (7-1) continues their week long Tour de Top 5 when they visit No. 4 St. Margaret’s (10-1) on Saturday.