FLORENCE — For 70 minutes, the Mars Hill defense played a flawless game against Westminster Christian Academy.
Doggedly protecting a 1-0 lead, the back four players parried every thrust Westminster made toward the Panthers goal.
But the constant pressure eventually wore down the Panthers’ defense as Westminster scored three goals in the final 10 minutes to take a 3-1 victory in the first round of the Class 1A-4A playoffs.
“The defense was able to turn them away time after time,” Mars Hill coach Daniel Dixon said. “They held up for all but the last few minutes.”
Mars Hill took a 1-0 lead with four minutes remaining in the first half when George Achard sent a cross through the box that Dillon Whitten headed in.
“That was a great goal,” Dixon said. “George is great at creating chances for us, whether it is him shooting it or passing it. It was a great pass by him and Dillon finished it.”
However, from that point in the game, Westminster dominated possession and the second half was essentially played on the Mars Hill end of the field.
But Mars Hill’s defenders Jeremi Vo, Justin Abernathy, Thomas Haynes and Ethan Smith constantly frustrated the Westminster strikers with their defense, stealing the ball and blocking shots. And any balls they didn’t get to were gobbled up by Panther goalkeeper Austin Swinea.
“Our defense has been outstanding all year,” Dixon said. “It’s really the foundation of our team. And Austin played an outstanding game. He was flying all over the place. It’s probably the best game he played all year.”
But as well as the defense played, they couldn’t hold out for the entire 80 minutes. Westminster tied the game with 10 minutes remaining when Jake Morgan scored off a corner kick.
It took eight more minutes for Westminster to get the game-winner, as Morgan gathered in a high-bouncing long pass at the top of the box, took a few dribbles and fired the winning shot past Swinea.
With Mars Hill pushing players forward to try to get the tying goal in the final minute, Westminster put the game away for good when Andrew Dunn scored with just four seconds remaining.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Dixon said. “Westminster is a very good squad and we knew the game could go either way. They just caught some breaks at the end that allowed them to get the victory.”