What a week it’s been for the Morgan County boys’ soccer program. Not only did they move into the second round of the State Playoffs for the second straight year, but a number of players were selected to the All-Region first and second teams. It got even better when freshman Trace Blanton was selected as the 8AAA Player-of-the Year.
Hopefully, the Dogs will top that off with a second round win this week as they take on the Calhoun Yellowjackets Wednesday at 6:00 at Bill Corry Stadium. More on them later.
In Friday’s first round victory, the Dogs took on Lumpkin County, the number four seed from Region 7AAA. Coach Aaron Paul gave some details about the game. “We started out slow the first five minutes and sort of drug around. It’s not like we were playing bad, but not up to our ability. I’m sure the two week layoff with spring break in there didn’t help any. Being in this situation before helped us to settle down after about 10 minutes and play our game.” Having never played Lumpkin and only seeing them on film, the coach said he was concerned about their physicality and wasn’t sure what to expect. “We settled down after about 10 minutes and started getting some shots on goal. Connor Clark and Grant Friddell came into the game and right after that we scored two goals.” Blanton scored two quick goals and the Dogs went into halftime with a 2-0 lead. “We came out pretty hyped up for the second half and dominated,” said the fourth year head coach.
Blanton got his hat trick with a third goal before Lumpkin finally got on the board to cut the lead to 3-1. Goals by Friddell and Nick Seymour put the game out of reach before Grayson Jarmin tacked on another one late in the contest for the 6-1 final.
“We scored within the first 10 minutes for a comfortable lead. When it went to 4-1 we had control and started subbing late but still scored. We played well. We dominated the time of possession, field position, and shots on goal stats. Colin (Sitzman) has been phenomenal all season for us, but he only got his hands on a handful of balls all night. He may have had two saves, but that’s because our defense played great. The goal they did score was somewhat of a freak shot on a free kick outside the 18 foot box. We set up a wall and somehow the ball just burned low across the grass in an unusual shot. Colin got blocked out and couldn’t find the ball. He dove for it, but it was a little too late.”
The game this week should be a good one. The Dogs come into the game ranked number 10 by MaxPreps while Calhoun is ranked as the 12th best team in AAA. They hold a 12-5-1 overall record and were 7-2 in Region 6AAA where they finished second behind North Murray. Paul talked about the task at hand with these remarks. “Calhoun is big, physical, and they’ve got some players. It’s a city school much like a Jefferson or Buford with good programs across the board, and soccer is no exception. They’re going to be fundamental and have plenty of speed. They were down 2-0 in the first round to Stone Mountain and came back to win 3-2. They’re a threat. We’ve got to have our A-game to do what we need to do. On the other hand, we’ve got depth. I think that will definitely play in our favor. We can make subs that can make things happen by giving us some different energy. Sometimes a change can make something happen when things begin to stagnate.”
Morgan is making its second straight appearance in the second round of the playoffs after winning a second straight Region 8AAA Championship. They are right where they were last year and, according to Paul, have no intention whatsoever of letting this one slip by them again. “It left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth last year to lose in the second round. They don’t want that to happen again. That’s why we’re practicing on Sunday. All the players and coaches wanted to and they wanted to see some film on Calhoun so we’re going to work hard Sunday through Tuesday and be ready to go Wednesday night.”
Paul was second-guessing his strategy a little from a year ago when he said, “Maybe last year I didn’t have them prepared as well as I could have. Not only in practices that week, but also in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. Our practices will be a little more intense this week with less free time to make sure the players are focused on their opponent. We’re working to make sure the guys are prepared.”
His final comments were, “We’re feeling confident, but not overlooking anybody. We’re treating it like it’s our final game, because it could be. The reality of the situation is you lose, you go home and the season is over. We don’t want to let this opportunity slip by us.” With the depth they have, and the tremendous play of a talented sophomore and freshman class, this team could be putting themselves into the history books with a win Wednesday.
This team seems ready to take the next step. A step that few, if any, MCHS soccer teams have taken. They want to be in the quarterfinals. If the tone and excitement in Paul’s voice and body language are any indication, they will be ready to take on Calhoun and put themselves in seldom-found territory for MOCO soccer.
In other soccer news, the All-Region 8AAA teams were announced with Morgan putting their mark on the first and second teams. It could be the first time that a freshman has been named Player-of-the-Year in 8AAA. To his knowledge, it may be the first time Morgan County has fielded a player to be named Player-of-the-Year. Here are those players that were honored.