VERSAILLES — By the time the 13th Region boys' high school soccer finals finished Thursday night, John Manga had a hitch in his get-along.
The undisputed best player on the pitch had taken a beating.
However, he also handed out a beating, leading Henry Clay to a 3-1 triumph over host Woodford County, ranked 18th in the state.
Manga, the tournament MVP who will play for the University of Cincinnati next year, had a goal and an assist to fuel the defending state champions' run into next week's sub-section round. The third-ranked Blue Devils (20-2-1) will play host to the 15th Region champion Monday.
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Henry Clay has won its past 12 matches and is unbeaten in its past 15 (14-0-1).
Included in the winning streak is a 1-0 regular-season triumph over Woodford.
"I give those guys credit. They are a great team," Manga said of the Yellow Jackets (15-4-4). "They came out, pressured for the first 20 minutes. We just kept going back and they kept fighting. ... It was a great game overall."
Woodford outshot the Blue Devils 6-0 over the first 18 minutes.
Once Henry Clay got untracked, though, on Manga's deflected shot with 21 minutes left, the Blue Devils got off three more shots in the next three minutes.
Henry Clay nearly scored with 18 minutes left in the half, when Connor Lakofka's shot got past keeper Vince Shaw. But Jacob Phillips backed up and headed the ball out of harm's way.
With 10:56 left in the half, Manga broke the scoreless tie. Taking a cross-field pass from Zach Campbell, Manga worked just inside the left corner of the 18-yard line and bombed a goal inside the far post.
"He's always looking for me; I know he's ready for me," Campbell said of Manga. "So I just played one in and ... I knew he'd finish it, too. That's what he always does."
The Yellow Jackets didn't need much time to square things. Clay Little did the honors, coming in on the back side to head Aaron Stover's corner kick past keeper John Paul Jikang with 7:40 left.
That's how the half ended.
"We thought finding space on the outside was going to be kind of a key so we were trying to, in the second half at least, really work it down the right side," Devils Coach Tim Bernardi said.
The Devils took the lead with 18:20 left.
From about 30 yards out on the left side, Manga played a ball into the penalty box for Gracia Kabange.
Despite having a defender on his hip, Kabange got the ball, slipped it past Shaw and saw it bank off the goal post into the net.
Cameron Boone made it 3-1 with 8:08 left with a back-side tap-in of a deflected corner kick by Thomas Ueland.
"I congratulate Henry Clay for getting a good win tonight. I wish them the best the rest of the way," Jackets Coach Fonyam Atanga said. "It's the same story as the previous game with Clay. We've talked about it — capitalize on our opportunities. We didn't. They did. And that's the story of the game."
Manga said he'll be fine for the next round.
Can these Devils do what last year's team did and win a state title?
"I know it's late, but we still have some work to do," Campbell said. "There's some good teams left. We're going to try our best. I hope we can make a run at it."
Henry Clay 3, Woodford County 1
Goals — WC: Clay Little; HC: John Manga, Gracia Kabange, Cameron Boone.
Goalkeepers — WC: Vince Shaw; HC: John Paul Jikang.
Records — Woodford Co. 15-4-4; Henry Clay 20-2-1.
All tournament team — John Manga (MVP), Zach Campbell, Cameron Boone and Matt Harris, Henry Clay; Trent Boyd, Vince Shaw and Aaron Stover, Woodford Co.; Jaime Gullo and Matt Williams, Tates Creek; Adam Goss and Austin Huffman, Western Hills.