Haddonfield (15-5-1) advanced Friday with a penalty-kick shootout win over another Colonial Liberty foe, Sterling. The teams went scoreless through 100 minutes of fast-paced soccer in which each had key chances to score. Haddonfield prevailed in the penalty kicks, 5-4.
Now the Bulldogs will be in the not-so-familiar role of underdog against a West Deptford team that has beaten Haddonfield twice, in one-goal nail-biters, this year.
"We like to say we are playing with house money," said Nixon, an assistant to Falana before getting the head job.
Spoken like a true underdog. But Haddonfield won't be able to ride that label very far.
Yes, West Deptford is without doubt the favorite after passing the true test of endurance by winning the Colonial Liberty title this year. The Eagles are coming off an impressive 5-1 quarterfinal win over another Colonial Liberty team, Haddon Heights.
But Haddonfield goes into any game, regardless of the magnitude or the opponent, expecting to win.
That is why the transition from Falana to Nixon has gone fairly smoothly. Players who had key roles two years ago when Haddonfield won the South Jersey Group 2 title have become leaders.
"A lot of us have been in big games, so it has been a pretty easy transition," said senior Luke Pease, one of the starters on that sectional-title team.
And speaking of transition, Pease has gone from being one of the Colonial's top midfielders to being among their better defenders. Nixon moved him there for the playoffs, and the Bulldogs have yet to allow a goal in two games.
"I had never played there before," Pease said.
It's sure hard to tell.
What was impressive about the win over Sterling is that Haddonfield converted all five of its penalty kicks, with senior Brendan Werner nailing the winner.
While many shooters would have been stressed out, Werner had a practical outlook.
"I figured if I missed, we would have another round [of penalty kicks], and if I made it, we would win," Werner said.
Sounds pretty simple.
In fact, this entire team doesn't seem to make things very complicated.
That might come from competing in the Colonial Conference, where Haddonfield, West Deptford, and Sterling stretched each other to the limit.
That's why in a true show of sportsmanship, before the second overtime Friday, Nixon and Sterling coach Pete Marlys greeted each other with the same message - no matter who wins, this is a heck of a game.
"There is a lot of mutual respect in this conference," Nixon said.
And an awful lot of talent.
There is only one guarantee with Tuesday's semifinal - that the Colonial Liberty will be represented by one team in the sectional final.
Who will win is more difficult to predict, but one thing is for sure: Both teams will do whatever it takes to advance to the final, and neither one at this stage is really playing with house money.