San Juan North Secondary's Brandon Semper's tenacious play and two technically-sound goals in the last 12 minutes, secured his team the Coca-Cola InterCol East Zone title with a 2-1 come-from-behind win over St Augustine Secondary yesterday.
At the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar, students swarmed the field at the final blast of referee's Gregory Lewis's whistle that marked the conclusion of a remarkable San Juan fightback after the team from Bourg Mulatresse overcame a 14th minute goal from the St Augustine's skilful forward Kendell Hitlal, who had tapped home from a left-side square ball.
The workman-like effort of San Juan's most influential player set the tone for a team that was always playing catch-up after the quarter-hour mark. And that tone unfortunately contrasted with some complacency from the “Green Machine” boys from Warren Street, who appeared to attempt to run out the clock, especially in the second half.
To be sure, Semper connecting with Renaldo Boyce and Tyrell Cameron in attacking forays that constantly kept St Augustine fullback Nykoaba James' defence active, had earlier chances to bring things level, including a 20th minute shot in the penalty area from Boyce; a 36th minute near-range effort, which was the second in quick succession. It was blocked by Green Machine custodian Yannick Gamildo after he had also turned back Cameron's close-range shot and a 58th minute effort just left of his left upright.
But Semper's inspiring work rate that saw him sprinting back to defend and making surging runs into attack throughout the game, would eventually prove the difference between the two teams. Semper took a 78th minute right side corner that was so well-placed that it curled directly into far upper corner and signalled the San Juan comeback.
Then with the momentum having swung in their direction, Semper sealed St Augustine's fate with an 86th minute low drive from 20 metres at the top of the “D” to Grimaldo's left, after the Machine's Rayhan Phillip had bungled a clearance in the last third. By that time, St Augustine were ruing the opportunities created by their dangerous attackers that didn't find the target.
Hitlal's 50th minute snapshot from inside the 18-metre box from a Akeem Hosten square pass went sailing inches overbars when he was granted acres of space. There was also the uncontrollable 74th minute blast inside the box from the penetrative and incisive Rahim Gordon who had replaced Hitlal in the 55th.
But the desperation of being one-down and the reality of time winding down probably gave Semper and his team more urgency in the second half. A mindset that proved a winning one yesterday.
Yesterday's Coca-Cola InterCol scores
East Zone final
San Juan North 2 (Brandon Semper 2) vs St Augustine 1 (Kendell Hitlal)
Central Zone final
Carapichaima 5 (Theophilus Bourne 2, Daniel Pascal, Elijah King, Akiem Albert) vs Gasparillo 0
Tobago Zone final
Signal 0 vs Speyside 0
(Signal Hill won 7-6 on kicks from the penalty spot)