This was the most ecstatic yellow card of Fran Twohig’s career.
The junior midfielder provoked the card by ripping off his shirt after scoring the winning goal in the College of Charleston’s 3-2 victory over No. 15 South Carolina, in front of a record-breaking home crowd on Sunday night.
In a seesaw battle that saw the Cougars take the lead twice, only to see the Gamecocks equalize both times, Twohig made a near-post run to catch up to George Khoury’s driven pass, and one-timed it high into the net in the 83rd minute, setting off a raucous celebration among the players and the 2,931 fans at Patriots Point.
“You get a yellow for that,” said sophomore forward Andy Craven, whose first-half brace staked the Cougars to a 2-1 lead at halftime, “but I almost took mine off too when he scored.”
Head coach Ralph Lundy, who opened his 25th season with the Cougars with the win, knew his players would be ready to run the play when the opportunity arose.
“That’s a play we work on, called a near-post run,” explained Lundy. “You drive the ball hard on the ground, and he plays a one-touch into the near post, and that’s exactly what happened. Actually, in the pregame warm-ups, we rehearse it over and over and over again.”
Without Craven’s movement, touch and work rate, however, Twohig’s last-gasp heroics would have been for naught.
In the seventh minute of the game, Twohig took an outlet from keeper Kees Heemskerk up the left side, and found Craven with a neat pass through the middle. The Cougars’ lone forward seized the ball and the opportunity, juking one defender and outrunning two more to leave himself one-on-one with South Carolina’s keeper, Alex Long. Craven cut to his left, pulled the ball out wide to sidestep Long, and calmly waltzed the ball into the open goal.
After Bradlee Baladez evaded Charleston central defenders to put a free header past Heemskerk, Craven handed the Cougars the lead again when he connected with a Ralphie Lundy free kick to head in from short range.
“Franny (Twohig) was coming back and getting the ball, and playmaking with our midfielders and playing Andy through,” said Lundy after the game. “Andy made the great through-runs and in the second half, almost scored a couple of goals as well. So it’s a nice combination, my two island guys,” – Craven and Twohig grew up playing club soccer together on Georgia’s St. Simon’s Island – “They both did great tonight.”
After dominating possession and attacking intent but failing to score against Mercer draw in their final exhibition game, the Cougars concentrated on putting the ball in the net this week in practice.
“We worked a lot on crossing, and on finishing. Our organization is what we’ve really been focusing on. That was a key aspect tonight,” said Craven.
Even after Twohig gave the Cougars the late lead, South Carolina refused to go quietly. In the 88th minute, Gamecock J.P. Rafferty flashed a shot across the face of the goal with Heemskerk left scrambling. Both players could only watch the ball skidding just past the upright for a goal kick. That led to a frenetic final two minutes that ended with the crowd counting down the seconds on an impressive season-opening win.
“I knew this would be about an even game, but the crowd is super,” said Lundy. “And the Gamecocks are a great program. It’s always a thrill to compete with the Gamecocks, and especially to beat them.”
The Cougars celebrated on the field after the final whistle, and then moved en masse to the near sideline to applaud the fans in the main stands.
Even though the Gamecocks scored two goals, Heemskerk’s work in goal kept the Cougars in the game. The sophomore, who came through the youth system at Ajax in the Netherlands, made five saves on 21 shots from USC, including a spectacular one in the first half. In the 40th minute, USC’s winger Asa Kryst rounded freshman left back Tanner Clay and began to bear down on Heemskerk. But the keeper got low and pushed Kryst’s one-on-one close-range effort off his left post for a corner.
The Cougars return to Patriots Point this weekend for the Nike / Aaron Olitsky Memorial Classic. They will face Princeton at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2, and Rutgers at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4.