HATTIESBURG – Sacred Heart senior Gabe Naquin loves the drama, and he was the center of it Saturday evening.
With four minutes left in regulation in a scoreless game, Naquin powered a shot inside the Franklin County box. Unlike the previous 14 shots on goal for the Crusaders, the Bulldogs’ goalkeeper couldn’t save it.
“We always train to follow up our shots because we don’t know what’s going to happen with the goalie,” Naquin said. “I was just following it in because I knew there was a possibility he was going to drop it. …
“I liked that feeling of scoring the game-winner late. Nothing better than that.”
The 1-0 score held up, and Sacred Heart punched its ticket to its fifth straight south state title game. The Crusaders will travel to the St. Patrick Fighting Irish next week, as the two split the two regular-season matchups this season, and they've also played each other in three of the last four south state title games.
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“Look, we were just trying to get it in,” Sacred Heart coach Joe Falla said of his team’s attack. “I’ll take a 1-0 win all day long.”
Naquin’s goal came in the 76th minute and it was the last of many attempts at the Franklin County goal. The Crusaders outshot the Bulldogs 23-3 and they had 15 shots on goal compared to Franklin County’s one.
The Franklin County goalkeeper, junior Colby Guice, stayed busy all night, but he recorded 15 saves until Naquin’s shot found the back of the net.
“That goalkeeper is class, no doubt,” Falla said. “That’s the best goalkeeper we’ve seen all year. Kudos to that guy.”
Guice made save after save in the first half, totaling eight through the first 40 minutes. Then he picked up right where he left off in the second half. Sacred Heart senior Carson Hall tried a no-look heel kick in the 54th minute, but Guice was there for the save.
That was just one example of Guice making an impact on the game.
“He was just a ball hawk,” Naquin said. “He was just catching everything out of the air. He was doing everything for them, really.”
Falla didn’t know much about Franklin County entering the night either. He wasn’t even aware of Franklin County’s 24-1 record. He was more worried about fishing, or at least an analogy about fishing.
The Crusaders use four or five players up top on the attack, as Falla substitutes and rotates where those players play on the field throughout the entire game. It just so happened that Falla had Naquin in the game in the 76th minute.
“He’s been hot here lately, so we're trying to figure out some kind of way to get the ball in the back of the net, and I think he’s my guy,” Falla said.
“I’m just trying to find somebody who’s hot. It’s kind of like fishing. Just looking for that right bait.”
(Joe Harper PHOTO)