Athens Boys Soccer Cruises Past Atlanta For Spot In Regional Quarterfinals
LONGVIEW -- Atlanta had a clear game plan entering Friday's Class 4A area round playoff game against District 15 champion Athens. Figuring it was going to be a tall task to take down the Hornets, the team tried to rope-a-dope itself to victory.
It worked. For 18 Hornets' shots in the first half.
Unfortunately for the Rabbits, opportunities to make a run the other way never materialized. Athens went on to win, 4-0.
"The longer they could keep themselves in the game, the better the chance they had," head coach Jonathan Ryal said. "We just couldn't get anything. Their keeper played phenomenal at the beginning of the game. But I told them to keep shooting and eventually it would go in. It did. A couple of times."
Shot No. 19 from Ryal's club -- a finishing touch off a frustrated 18th attempt from long range and a juicy rebound recovered by Jordy Castaneda -- was the game winner. It came with 7:18 remaining in the first half.
Athens exited the game with 39 shot attempts, 17 of which were on target. Atlanta managed three shots and forced one save from Hornets' goalkeeper David Cedillo.
The Rabbits pushed as far as they could with their strategy.
Keeper Gerrell Gulley made nine saves before giving up a goal and went on for 14 saves through the match. One stop prevented an own goal.
Those numbers are well above average for an 80-minute high school game.
Gulley's supporting defense wilted after the first goal. Atlanta gave up the second goal to Cody Brown on a touch-and-go pass from Jonathan Marron less than three minutes later.
It was over four minutes into the second half.
Castaneda tripped up Atlanta's defense with a left-footed shot from range and no one was there to defend the far side of the net. Marron then fed Raul de la Fuente on a corner kick.
"Their goalie was good and got a couple of good saves," Castaneda said. "A couple of our shots were off target. You start off good or you start off bad. You've got to eventually make one. That changes everything."
Ryal pulled Castaneda and parts of the primary rotation with 29 minutes to play. Every Hornet field player ultimately earned playoff action.
Only the second team to play multiple playoff games in school history entering Friday, Athens' will play a third tournament game.
The Hornets square off will Kilgore, winners of a 7-1 game against Pleasant Grove, in the regional quarterfinals. Both sides seemed optimistic they can play inside Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler at 7 p.m. Monday, but the two teams were still ironing out complete details.
"We know how Athens has been put out of the playoffs by Kilgore in multiple sports the last few years," Ryal said. "We're going to do our best to break that streak."
Kilgore won District 16-4A and has outscored its two playoff opponents 17-1. Athens, however, has not allowed a goal in the postseason.
The quick turnaround gives the Hornets exactly one day to prepare for the match. Sunday is Easter.
"They're a good team," Castaneda said. "We've played them before. We've got to start stronger and make more of our shots count."