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USL Playoffs Rewind: Aug. 31, 2012 – Hammers’ Time

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 08/31/16, 9:07AM EDT


Hammerheads unseat Lions in stunning upset at Citrus Bowl

Photo courtesy Orlando City SC

The first five seasons of the USL’s history have included a number of memorable moments on the field. As we build up to crowning a new champion, this series takes a look back at the upsets, the memorable performances and the championships that have come before.

Wilmington Hammerheads FC 4, Orlando City SC 3
August 31, 2012 – Florida Citrus Bowl

After a regular season that saw it suffer just one defeat, and sit at the top of the standings by 16 points, defending USL champion Orlando City SC was considered a shoo-in for back-to-back titles when it faced off with Wilmington Hammerheads FC at the Florida Citrus Bowl in the semifinals of the 2012 USL Playoffs.

Instead, a crowd of 7,887 fans was treated to one of the biggest shocks in the USL’s history.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t necessarily have come as a surprise. The Hammerheads were the side that had handed Orlando its lone loss of the season at Legion Stadium, but with the Lions coming in on a 14-game undefeated streak and Wilmington having needed a stoppage-time goal to defeat the Richmond Kickers 3-2 the week before in the quarterfinals, Orlando was a big favorite as the game arrived.

Within 10 minutes, though, the formbook had been turned on its head. Corey Hertzog scored from the penalty spot in the fourth minute, and Luke Holmes added another five minutes later to give the underdogs a quick two-goal lead. On the half-hour mark, Hagop Chirishian made it 3-0, and the upset was on.

Orlando fought back, and grabbed a lifeline a minute before halftime when Matt Luzunaris cut the deficit to two. As strongly as Lions pushed early in the second half, though, the Hammerheads’ defense held firm. A fourth goal, Hertzog’s second of the night, in the 59th minute appeared to send the Hammerheads’ through, only for Orlando to again roar back late.

With Wilmington reduced to 10 men for the final 25 minutes after Dylan Riley was sent off, the Lions surged forward, but they were unable to cut into the deficit until Jamie Watson scored on a stoppage-time penalty kick. Moments later George Davis IV made it 4-3, increasing the sense of tension in the stands, but the final whistle arrived shortly after, allowing the Hammerheads to move on.

The victory would, unfortunately for the Hammerheads, prove the high point of their season as they were unable to reproduce the goal-scoring form that had sent them to the final a week later. The Charleston Battery claimed the USL Championship with a 1-0 win at Blackbaud Stadium the following week.

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