Things seemed bleak for South Carolina. The Gamecocks were 11 minutes away from starting the season 0-2 for the first time since 1996.
It all changed with a blow of a whistle.
Gamecock freshman Logan Hitzeman went down in the box and penalty was given. Seconds later Brian Banahan slotted home the penalty kick to the left of the Gardner-Webb goalkeeper to tie the game in the 79th minute.
The penalty sent the game into overtime, when Tucker Monheimer scored the winning goal a minute in to send the 2,233 fans in attendance at Stone Stadium home happy.
“This is sudden death overtime. The next shot wins the game,” Berson told his team before overtime. “The first shot anybody takes can win the game. So you need to make sure you’re sharp defensively, you’re organized and you’re closing people down and then make sure you go forward.”
The Gamecock — who won a game past 90 minutes since a 2-1 win over Mercer in August 2017 — are now 11-2 in their last 13 home openers. They had drawn or lost their last three overtime games.
“I think this year the biggest thing we pride ourselves in is commit to playing every game to our best potential,” Monheimer said. “Never leaving anything on the field. Giving 100 percent. I feel that was a perfect showcase just now. Overtime games are never easy, so coming out on top like that feels really good for us.”
Seconds into the overtime period, Hitzeman collected a ball from sophomore defender Josh Corning and crossed it to a wide-open Monheimer, who tapped in a close-range shot.
“I felt one was coming for me. To be honest, once the game went into overtime, I felt like I had to step up [being] a senior on the team,” Monheimer said. “A good ball [was] played in, and I just had to tap it in. Bring us home.”
“I honestly didn’t hear anything,” Hitzeman said. “I just saw the ball go in the goal and I didn’t know what to think. First time feeling this way. I don’t know. It’s a great feeling.”
Halfway through the second half, the game started to open up and the Gamecocks found themselves in control. The most dangerous chance came in the 32nd minute on a 21-yard free kick from Dylan Bartel that sailed just over the crossbar.
By the halftime whistle, the home tea had outshot Gardner-Webb 4-2 and had five corners to the Runnin’ Bulldogs zero.
But a slow start to the second half hurt the Garnet and Black.
Ninety-two seconds in, Gardner-Webb’s Jorge Salgado capitalized on a loose rebound to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
In the 30 minutes between goals, South Carolina had their chances to equalize, but could not connect on the final pass in the attacking third. Berson continued to make substitutes in an effort to get the tying goal only to be bailed out by the official’s whistle and eventually Banahan and Monheimer.
“The only thing that makes up for a mistake is hard work. I thought they worked really, really hard tonight. That’s a big lesson they all have to learn,” Berson said.
“Especially the first-year guys. This is their first-time playing college soccer. I was really pleased with what they have done so far and we just have to keep going.”