Better late than never right?
Well, the footballers from San Juan North Secondary will certainly tell you so, as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in their East Zone Intercol final against St Augustine Secondary yesterday afternoon at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar.
The boys from Bourg Mulatresse trailed St Augustine for almost 70 minutes in the keenly-contested final but a stylish double by National Under-17 player Brandon Semper stole the game right at the death.
St Augustine, who were the defending East Zone champions, took a seventh minute lead through attacker Kendell Hitlal and they defended stoutly for most of the contest. But they had no answer when the versatile Semper took the game by the scruff of the neck in crunch time.
Semper, who goes by the alias “Sprite”, usually plays at left back or left midfield. But he got the green light to partner Renaldo Boyce up top by coach Jerry Moe yesterday, and the youngster obliged by shooting for the stars.
Everything Semper touched in Malabar did not exactly turn to goal but he persevered until he found his intended target.
First in the 78th minute, “Sprite” equalised when he beat St Augustine goalkeeper Yannick Gamildo with a cheeky in-swinging corner kick. And eight minutes later, the national youth player doubled up as he clinically spanked a left-footer into the bottom corner from just outside the area.
It was game, set and match for the boys from Bourg and the “Green Machine” of St Augustine could not get revved up for a late fight back.
It was the bitterest of pills to swallow for coach Adrian Romain and his team and right back Darian Parks was inconsolable after putting in a very solid shift in defence. Romain would have been crushed too.
It was his third East Zone Intercol final in the last fours years with three different schools. He lost all of them, as yesterday’s defeat followed second-place finishes with El Dorado West and Trinity College East in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Worse, Romain and his charges appeared to have one hand on the East Intercol trophy today, only for their fierce rivals to rudely pushed them aside.
The Green Machine seemed content to play on the counter attack after taking the early first half lead. Skipper Anthony Samuel looked especially dangerous on the break, ably supported by Akeem Hosten and goal scorer Hitlal. And it took a brilliant tackle by St Augustine and National Under-17 defender Kerdell Sween to stop Samuel’s mazy path to goal in the 26th minute.
At the other end, San Juan danger man Boyce looked to be well-marshalled by the St Augustine centre-back pairing of Nykoaba James and Rayhan Phillip, who matched his aggression and strong aerial play with solid defending.
As the first half wore on, it looked as though San Juan would need something spectacular to get back on level terms. And Boyce tried to do the honours on the half hour mark but his bicycle effort looked more like a rugby conversion than a shot at goal.
San Juan goalkeeper Shawndell Byer succumbed to excessive exuberance too, just seconds later, as he rushed to edge of his area and woefully miscued his clearance. Luckily, defender Kareem John was able to deal with the subsequent goal-ward header by Hosten and prevent the Green Machine from pulling away.
Back at the other end, Gamildo was forced into a smart double save to deny stinging efforts by Tyrell Cameron and Nathaniel Perouse in the 36th minute, as St Augustine were back on the defensive.
The score remained 1-0 to St Augustine at the interval and San Juan coach Jerry Moe knew they needed a fresh approach.
“In the first half we did well but we gave up an easy goal,” Moe told Wired868. “I thought we defended too deep for the goal that they scored. The only problem I had in the first half was more the mental side. When a guy made a mistake the players were coming down a little too much on each other.
“We corrected it halftime and we had a much better performance.”
The mentality was not the only thing which changed for San Juan at halftime, as Moe inserted pint-sized attacker Jerome Cyrus for the workmanlike Marcus Berot. Cyrus, who is a tricky little customer—and never short on confidence—gave San Juan more penetration. And in the 53rd minute, the San Juan substitute gave Gamildo a glimpse of his capability as he forced the custodian into a sharp, low save with a volley from a Boyce knock down.
Romain possibly sensed a turning in the tide, as he inserted his deadliest player, Rahim Gordon, who replaced the lively Hitlal. But San Juan kept coming.
In the 57th minute, Sween glanced a Semper free kick just wide, while the latter blazed a left-footed shot over the bar just three minutes later. And then a slightly contentious moment followed in the 61st minute, as Gordon appeared to be pulled down well outside the area by Sween, after worming past the defender.
Was Sween the last man?
Referee Gregory Lewis saved himself from that tough decision by deeming that Sween’s tackle was fair play.
A miscued cross from Tyrell Cameron nearly embarrassed Gamildo in the 65th minute, only to land on top of his net rather than inside it.
But there was no escape, in the 78th minute, as Semper caught him out by beautifully curling a right side corner into the far netting. The San Juan goal scorer ran away to the cameras and lifted his jersey to pay homage to his deceased aunt and uncle.
Boyce threatened Gamildo again in the 83rd minute, only for his rocket of a right-footed shot to whistle past the post. But there was no stopping San Juan yesterday and they snatched the East Zone Intercol trophy from their opponents’ hands in the 86th minute, after pouncing on some loose play at the back.
Phillip, who had been a pillar of strength all game, picked the wrong time to make an error, as he gave away possession to San Juan substitute Josiah Beard, just outside the St Augustine penalty box. Beard swiftly passed to Semper, who had only one thing on his mind, as the versatile San Juan player arrowed a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner.
Cyrus tried to rub salt in the wounds of the Green Machine as he left two defenders for dead in the area before Perouse shot inches over bar.
But “Sprite” had already done enough. That’s one soft drink Gamildo may have lost his taste for in the near future.
“I think overall we stuck to the game plan,” said Moe, who also led San Juan to the East Zone title in 2014. “In a final it is more about mental toughness than technical, mental or physical attributes. And we were really insisting that the guys go out there with the right attitude and mindset; and to just focus on the effort and the performance and not so much the result.
“Because the result will be a reflection of the effort and the performance.”
Moe will hope that his team can keep up the intensity of their effort and performance when they face the North Zone champion—either St Anthony’s College or Trinity College Moka—in the National Intercol semifinal on Wednesday 30 November at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
“We did a lot better than we did [in the Intercol] last season and now we want to go a step further,” said Moe. “We have been here already, in terms of reaching to the National Semis. Now we have to prepare and be ready for whoever we have to meet from the North Zone.”
San Juan North (4-4-2): 1.Shawndell Byer (GK); 21.Kyle Thomas, 8.Lukeman Brooks (captain), 3.Kerdell Sween, 17.Kareem John; 2.Tyrell Cameron (7.Josiah Beard 66), 26.Marcus Berot (20.Jerome Cyrus 46), 22.Nathaniel Perouse, 18.Tigana O’Brien; 6.Brandon Semper, 9.Renaldo Boyce.
Unused Substitutes: 10.Josiah Phillip, 11.Miguel Garraway, 14.Darian Warner, 16.Obadele Dickson, 30.Jushwar Wong.
Coach: Jerry Moe
St Augustine (4-2-3-1): 1.Yannick Gamildo (GK); 5.Darian Parks, 4.Rayhan Phillip, 2.Nykoaba James, 3.Zion Holder; 12.Rivaldo Coryat, 14.Ethan Bonaparte; 11.Akeem Hosten, 19.Kenton James (21.Emmanuel Cumberbatch 74), 9.Anthony Samuel (captain); 7.Kendell Hitlal (10.Rahim Gordon 55).
Unused Substitutes: 6.Terran Luke, 8.Jirel Meloney, 17.Tajh Devenish, 22.Aaron Best, 24.Jeremiah Vidale.
Coach: Adrian Romain
Referee: Gregory Lewis
Man of the Match: Brandon Semper (San Juan North)
2016 Intercol results
Monday 21 November
(Tobago Zone Finals)
Speyside Secondary 0, Signal Hill Secondary 0 at Dwight Yorke Stadium;
*—Signal Hill won 6-5 on kicks from the penalty mark;
(East Zone Finals)
San Juan North 2 (Brandon Semper 78, 86), St Augustine 1 (Kendell Hitlal 7) at Larry Gomes Stadium;
Tuesday 22 November
(Central Zone Finals)
Gasparillo Secondary vs Carapichaima East Secondary, 4pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Friday 25 November
(North Zone Finals)
Trinity College (Moka) vs St Anthony’s College, 4pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
(National Intercol Quarterfinals)
Central Zone Winner vs Signal Hill, Dwight Yorke Stadium;
(National Intercol Semifinals)
Presentation College (San F’do) vs Central/Signal Hill, 3:30 pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
Wednesday 30 November
(National Intercol Semifinals)
North Zone Winner vs East Zone Winner, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Monday 5 December
(National Intercol Finals)
WINNER Semi-final 1 vs WINNER Semi-final 2
Girls Intercol results
Sunday 20 November
(South Zone Finals)
Fyzabad Secondary 1 (Shenieka Paul), Pleasantville Secondary 1 (Kadean Louison) Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
*—Fyzabad won 5-4 on kicks from the penalty mark
(Tobago Zone Finals)
Signal Hill 4 (Avonelle Loraine 14, Asha James 28, 30, 60), Mason Hall 2 (Celine Loraine 16, Crystal Toney 45) at Mount Pleasant;
(North Zone Finals)
Diego Martin Central 3, Bishop’s Anstey POS 3 at Serpentine Road;
*—Bishop’s won 4-3 on kicks from the penalty mark.
Thursday 24 November
Signal Hill Secondary vs Carapichaima East, 3.30pm, TBA;
Sunday 27 November
(National Girls Intercol Semifinals)
St Augustine vs Bishop’s Anstey POS, 3:30 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
Fyzabad Secondary vs Tobago/Central Zone Winner, 3:30 pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
Friday 2 December
(National Girls Intercol Finals)
Winner Semi-final 1 vs Winner Semi-final 2