Guts and determination led to tears, but in the end, it was all worth it as the Tuks women's football team booked their spot in Monday's Varsity Football tournament final.
Tuks made "history" on Saturday when they won 2-1 against UJ in the semi-final at Tuks. In doing so, they set themselves up to contest the final for only the second time. Their opponent, UWC, has played five previous finals but has never won. That makes Monday's final exciting as it is guaranteed for the first time in six years, there is going to be a new Varsity Tournament Champion.
The Tuks "girls" certainly had their work cut out playing UJ. At halftime, the score was tied at 0-0. The real test of character came after the 47th minute when Keolebogile Putu scored from a penalty shot to give UJ a 1-0 lead. It was the first time since Wednesday that Tuks was trailing in a game.
For the next 20 minutes, the Tuks players were relentless in how they went about setting up attack after attack. Something had to give, and it did. UJ erred and was penalized in the 64th minute. Tuks's Betty Mallela levelled the scores with her penalty shot attempt.
Tuks continued pressurizing the UJ defence. It paid dividends. Late in the game, UJ's Queen Ntsoelikane headed the ball past her own goalkeeper into the back of the net, with Mallela breathing down her neck. It gave Tuks a 2-1 lead.
When the referee's whistle blew for one final time, there were tears of joy from the Tuks players and with just reason. They started the Varsity Tournament as the underdogs-the team that was never meant to play the final.
"I am so proud of my team. We fought to the very last minute for this victory. When we were down 1-0, our coach told us it was not how you start the game that matters. It is about how you finish. That is why we will never give up," said Nthabiseng Mlotshwa.
Being 1.49 metres tall, Mlotshwa is the smallest player in the Tuks team. She is, however, a firm believer it is not one's size that matters on the field but one's "heart". That is why she is like a bit of dynamo when playing.
To Tuks's coach, Maude Khumalo, it was a game of emotions.
"I got so involved in the game that at times, it felt like I was playing with the players only to realize I am the one on the sidelines. I never doubted the outcome of the game. I knew my players have what it takes to win, but they tend to 'switch off' at times. So they needed to be woken up. I told the players it is not only about personal glory. It is Tuks's honour that is at stake. That is why we need to win the trophy."
Morongwa Manamela (Tuks captain) praised her teammates for showing character.
"At halftime in the dressing room with the score tied, I asked only one question. How keen are you to play to the final? Then I said it was going to take 100% from everyone to do so. My teammates took up the challenge.
"It is essential to realize that the tournament is not won yet. There is still a final to be played. Up to now, we had been taking it one game at a time. That has been the secret to our success."
The kick-off for Monday's final between Tuks and UWC is at 17:00 at the Tuks Stadium.