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BRANDON — One moment of magic can often be the difference in games between two highly competitive teams and tonight that moment belonged to Miguel Magagnin. Magagnin’s free kick stunner in the 78th minute was the lone difference in a tremendous second round playoff battle between Northwest Rankin and Brandon. 

There was certainly a buzz at Bulldog Stadium Saturday night. Two teams very familiar with one another faced off with a ticket to the South State Championship on the line. 

Brandon (10-6-3) was coming off their biggest win of the year — a 1-0 victory over a talented Biloxi team in the first round of the playoffs. Biloxi also happens to be the team that is the lone blemish on Northwest Rankin’s (22-0-1) record, tying the Cougars 1-1 early in the season. 

The unanimously number 1 ranked Cougars have been great all year long. They are the odds-on favorite to win the 6A State Championship and were coming off a dominant first round win over Pascagoula.

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Brandon put the pressure on the Cougars early, nearly finding the opener in the third minute. Jeison Ramos put on some fancy footwork and created enough space for a shot at the top of the 18 that required a save. 

Northwest Rankin responded with a great chance of their own in the 20th minute. Tucker Jones ripped a shot from the top of the box that nearly gave the Cougars the lead. 

The Cougars ended the half with another near-goal off a great free kick from Magagnin. Rory Humphrey ran onto the perfectly placed pass and flicked a header on goal. Brandon’s Cameron Kent was up for it though making the save and sending the game to halftime scoreless. 

The home stadium energy was a benefit to the Bulldogs to start the second half. After a mad scramble in the box, the ball fell to Kaden Smith five yards away from the goal. Smith got his shot off but a diving save from JJ Saloni stopped the chance. Seconds later Smith found himself in on goal with just the goalkeeper to beat. A sliding recovery tackle from Northwest Rankin’s Victor Castro cut out the almost sure goal. 

The Cougars then got their best chance of the match. Victor Castro laid off a pass to Michael Turner 20 yards from goal. Turner blasted a shot that had the goalkeeper beat, but not the crossbar. The shot flying back into play and the deadlock continued. 

In the dying moments of the game a moment of brilliance from Magagnin proved to the difference in the teams. Northwest Rankin earned a free kick from 20 yards away on the right hand side. Magagnin stepped up and struck a beautiful curling shot that went up and over the wall and past the goalkeeper. The final whistle blew two minutes later, and the Cougars were off to a South State Championship game.

Northwest Rankin will now face Oak Grove for a chance to compete for a spot in the State Championship game. Oak Grove defeated Ocean Springs tonight earning their spot in the game. The two teams faced off back in November, a game Northwest Rankin won 1-0.

Feature photo by Dylan Tribolet