After a scoreless first half, Newton County soccer coach Will Thompson made a historic move.

Down 2-0 and 10 minutes deep into the second half, Thompson switched Graham Lewis and Lee Hill on the offensive end.

That move paid almost instant dividends as Hill scored the first of three second-half goals to lead Newton County to a 3-2 win over Ripley and secure a spot in Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game, the first in school history on boys soccer.

The Cougars improve to 23-1 on the season and will play the winner of Florence and St. Stanislaus on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Brandon High School.

Ripley went ahead 2-0 in the first half while Newton County missed a penalty kick and had another shot go off the post.

“We had had a lot of chances in the first half,” Thompson said. “We had a penalty kick in the first five minutes and that shot went off the post. We had another shot and it went off the other post. We were getting plenty of shots, it was just a matter of time before they started to go in.”

Thompson said he and his assistant/wife Sara Thompson told the Cougars to keep doing what they were doing.

“We talked about it that we were getting plenty of shot that we needed to keep doing what we were doing,” Thompson said. “Before I could tell them, my wife was already telling them. I told them that we had scored four goals before in a half. We were going to score and there was no doubt about that. I told them that nobody said it was going to be easy.”

After 10 minutes in the second half, Thompson made the decision to swap Hill and Lewis. 

“We had been in their end a lot in the second half and it all changed in our favor when I swapped Graham Lewis and Lee Hill,” Thompson said. “Lee slipped through and Gustavo Silva hit him and he knocked it in. That it wasn’t that long when Will Rushing hit Lee on a long shot and we got our second goal. At that point, it seemed like Ripley started to unravel a little bit.”

After the second goal from Hill, the junior standout got his third goal as Rushing hit him on another long shot.

“We have so many guys across the board that can score that the defense can’t mark just one player,” Thompson said. “Lee has 24 goals on the season and teams will try to mark him but that leaves somebody else open. But by adding the two Brazilian players, we have several guys who can score and has made us very tough to defense on offense.”

Thompson said after going up 3-2, his team went into defensive mode and was able to keep the ball away from Ripley to hold on for the come-from-behind win.

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