Camperdown High school qualified for the semifinals of the ISSA/LIME Manning Cup competition for the first time in 24 years when Ajuma Johnson hit a second half brace that included a late equalizer, in a 2-2 draw to deny opponents Hydel High at the Spanish Town Prison Oval on Monday.
Camperdown began the day in pole position needing only a draw to secure the semi-final berth while Hydel needed a win to advance. An intense, physical and even first half in which neither team held anything back, gave way to a dramatic second half that had everyone inside the stadium on the edge of their seats.
Christopher Bender, the head coach of Camperdown was the first to blink at the half time interval and made two changes at the break. He brought in striker Andre McCatty for Kevin Clarke and midfielder Tajea Brown for Prince McGilvery.
The move paid dividends immediately as the East Kingston team went on the offensive, pushing back the Hydel team.
Johnson showed signs of what was to come when he got off a quick shot five minutes after the break, but it was easy for Hydel goalkeeper Nicholas Clarke.
Four minutes later however, Clarke was picking up the ball out of his net. Johnson received a beautiful pass from his captain, Tevin Shaw and curled a sublime effort with the inside of his left foot, just inside the right upright to send the vocal Camperdown supports into a frenzy.
Camperdown was smelling blood and kept running at Hydel defence and in the 56th minute Clarke had to get down smartly to his left to tip a low shot from Johnson around his left post for a corner kick.
Rameish McKnight had the chance to kill the game off in the 67th minute when a defence splitting pass from Shaw played him in one on one with Clarke but the striker rushed his effort and from an unbalanced position, fired high and wide of the target.
Hydel coach Donovan Hayles was forced into a defensive change shortly after, when Rory Bryan had to be substituted by Richard Palmer.
Four minutes after the miss by McKnight, Hydel was level. A corner kick from the right hand side, by Stephen Barnett, was headed home by big defender Kurt Thomas at the far post.
With the scores tied at 1-1, Camperdown still had the advantage but Hydel had the momentum. Two minutes after the equalizer Barnett had the chance to put his team ahead but his miss-hit effort from 8 yards was gobbled up by Kemmar Pinnock in the Camperdown goal.
The Hydel pressure was starting to tell but the Camperdown team wisely slowed down the game to take some of the steam out of the contest.
However six minutes from time, the Ferry based school took the lead from another corner kick. Taken from the left side this time, Barnett once again curled his effort to the far post for Jonthe Brown to head his team into the lead for the first time in the game.
The smaller group of Hydel fans was in a state of delirium as they chanted for Camperdown to go home. For three long minutes they were in the semi-finals.
The final twist in the tale was about to be written however, and it was Johnson who would steal the headlines. A left sided cross was flicked on by his teammate and the midfielder was on hand to sweep home from close range to send the Hydel players sinking to their knees in tears.
After safely navigating four minutes of stoppage time it was the time the Camperdown players to be in tears, tears of joy, as the reality set in that their school would be represented in the final four for the first time in over two decades.
Bender suggested in his post match comments that the semi-finals may not be their final destination.
"This one was not for the faint hearted, but again, the character, the desire the will of the team, never say die, and maybe, just maybe, it could be our year," he said.
Speaking about the contribution of two goal hero Ajuma Johnson, Bender said, "We get a lot of criticism for this player, he is a creative player...he was crying that he wanted to come off the field, but I told him no, today is it."
"This was a very difficult hurdle but I can promise you that this team will play much, much better come the semi-finals," Bender concluded.
Donovan Hayles had nothing but praises for his players despite missing out on the semi-finals.
"Yes I am disappointed, but I am not down because the players gave me a fair effort. It was a very honest performance from my players today...an indiscretion in defence, not kicking out the ball really cost us."
The last time Camperdown won the Manning Cup was in 1982 and Christopher Bender was a part of that team.