GULFPORT–Powered by a first-half brace from Austin Hilyer and a goal apiece from Matt Merrill and Chisom Ogbonna, AFC Mobile beat Biloxi City FC 4-2 on Saturday for the first ever win in the club’s history.
“To get that monkey off the back, for me, for coach Ruben, for the team, for the fans, it’s an amazing feeling,” AFC Mobile head coach Nate Nicholas said. “I knew we had it in us. Tonight, we played them off the park. We were the better team from start to finish.”
Biloxi opened the scoring in the 15th minute when the home team bundled in a corner that bounced across the end line over right back Sherman Winchester’s attempted clearance. Ten minutes later, Hilyer drew a yellow card while stopping a Biloxi counter.
Five minutes after that, a Markos Mallis corner skipped through the box to Hilyer’s waiting foot at the back post for the equalizer.
In the 35th minute, Hilyer headed home off another corner to give the team from Mobile a lead it would never relinquish.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Hilyer said. “He placed that cross perfectly, and I was right there. Perfect timing, I guess.”
Mobile dominated the second half from the first whistle, earning its third goal when midfielder Matt Merrill blasted a shot from outside the box past the Biloxi keeper.
Chisom Ogbonna had a chance to finish the match in the 62nd minute when he was brought down in the box to earn a penalty, but the forward’s resulting kick was saved. He didn’t make the same mistake twice. Ogbonna was again brought down in the 69th minute, and blasted the penalty off the underside of the crossbar and into the goal.
“He is a true professional,” Nicholas said of the club’s leading goalscorer. “He comes, he works hard, he is a leader. Even without the armband, he’s been a leader on the team, not just by scoring goals but showing when to calm down and when to go. When you have a player of that level on your team who you don’t have to coach, who’s another coach on the field, you love it. He’s been amazing.”
The home team got one back in the 75th minute, but it was scant consolation as Mobile’s win ended Biloxi’s bid for the Gulf Coast Premier League playoffs and avenged a 2-1 loss in Mobile, giving the Azaleas the 5-4 series win on aggregate.
After the first win in club history, the traveling fans – a bus-full and then some… more than 100 – took to the pitch to greet their club.
“When your fans outnumber, or are at least 10 times louder, than the home fans, and it feels like you’re at a home game, you’ve got nothing but love for that,” Nicholas said. “I almost lost my voice in the first half, and I know they were going crazy. It buoyed us all season to know they had our backs.”
70' GOAL AFC MOBILE! Chisom Ogbonna rockets the penalty off the underside of the bar to take a 4-1 lead an @CRSGSoccer goes wild! pic.twitter.com/2Ai4f5IPM8
— AFC Mobile (@AFCMobile) July 16, 2017
“They’re amazing,” Hilyer said of the Causeway Rebellion Supporters Group. “We were on the field and the other team was telling us ‘y’all’s fans are crazy.’ That pushed us the entire match, and we couldn’t be more pleased with them.”
AFC Mobile ended its inaugural season with six points, one win, three draws and six losses, and the top six attendance records in the league, including Biloxi’s record attendance of more than 400 set Saturday night, the highest in a GCPL match not hosted by AFC Mobile.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Nicholas said of his squad. “Every one of them came out and worked hard, and this is just reward for a whole season.