Devils' Manga is the man to replace hurt teammate

For Henry Clay, if it isn't one Philip, it's another.

With leading scorer Philip Mabika out because of multiple injuries, it was junior Philip Manga who stepped up. Manga scored the match's lone goal as the Blue Devils knocked off Tates Creek 1-0 Thursday at Henry Clay to claim the 13th Region title.

Manga's goal came on a quick strike after he headed it to himself and outran the lone deep Tates Creek defender before firing his shot into the back corner.

"I knew I was one-on-one and I had to use my speed to beat that guy," Manga said. "In my mind, I knew I had to put the ball on the back post. It feels good, I can't lie.

"It feels good."

The win extended the No. 4 Devils' season even as they played without Mabika, who had two goals in an overtime win against Tates Creek (11-8-4) last week in the district finals. Mabika collided with the goalkeeper in Henry Clay's regional semifinal match Tuesday and suffered a concussion, two fractured facial bones and a torn cornea.

He wore sunglasses to shield his swollen right eye Thursday night. His teammates weren't sure of his status until earlier in the day, when Mabika called a meeting.

"I said, 'Ya'll, I trust in ya'll guys to do this,'" Mabika said. "And I told them, 'If ya'll do this, next week, I'm promising big stuff (in the state tournament).' "

After hearing Mabika speak, Manga said he knew he needed to take charge.

"I knew that this was my time to step up now," Manga said. "I had trust in my team that we were going to make it, but it was my time. Our season is almost over with, and I had to make big plays."

Henry Clay (18-3-2) struggled early offensively as Tates Creek dominated possession in the first half. The Commodores had several scoring chances thwarted, including two diving saves by Henry Clay goalkeeper Miguel Andrade.

The Devils found their stride in the second half after getting used to playing without Mabika in the middle, Henry Clay Coach Tim Bernaldi said.

"We knew losing Philip was going to leave a big void," Bernaldi said. "We had to figure out how we were going to play without him with that void in the center-mid position. That's the first game he's missed, so I think it was just finding the people to work through it."

As the match ended, Manga leaped in the air to celebrate. The only Blue Devil more excited was Mabika. His season, and Henry Clay career, was extended for at least one more game.

"I told them to do it, and they definitely did it," Mabika said. "I appreciate the whole team."