There are many words that could be used to describe the feelings of the Morgan County High School boys’ soccer team after their second round loss to Calhoun. Sorrow, despair, anguish, grief, pain, misery, suffering, or all of the above come to mind. It was a 1-0 heartbreaker that will be remembered for a long time. As of this issue, Calhoun is still alive in the playoffs and will play East Hall or Windsor Forest in the Final Four. The Dogs got beat by a pretty good team.
In an evenly matched contest between two highly talented and ranked teams, the Bulldogs took the loss to end their hopes of making the Elite Eight a reality. This would have been the first time a Morgan boys’ squad made an appearance in that round. It was not to be.
To say that this was some big boy soccer would have been an understatement. The two teams met the other’s physicality with their own, fought over 50-50 balls, and beat each other up for 80 minutes in a defensive matchup. It was sad that either team had to lose.
When Calhoun walked out on the field for warmups, the Dogs knew they had their work cut out for them. The Yellowjackets fielded a big team both in numbers and size. Morgan was up to the task.
In the opening minutes of the game, it was obvious that this would be a good one. The first ten minutes gave the fans an array of shots, saves, and teamwork with the teams showing off some dazzling footwork, ballhandling, and passing. Goal keeper Colin Sitzman was kept busy early on making four saves in the first 15 minutes to stave off a relentless attack on the Morgan goal. He made a particularly outstanding play at the 25:40 mark diving full-out to his left to deflect what would have been a sure goal for Calhoun.
Morgan’s first threat didn’t come until 31:48 in the half when Finn Williams broke loose on a long pass that the Dogs were unable to do anything with. Minutes later with 28:00 minutes remaining, Region Player-of-the-year Trace Blanton made a nice crossing pass to the middle of the field, but Morgan came up empty-handed again.
The lone goal of the contest came at the 25:33 mark. Calhoun took a ball right along the end line and centered a pass to a waiting player on the right side of the goal. It was a perfect pass that Calhoun took advantage of as they punched it into the left side of the goal for the 1-0 lead that would end up as the final tally.
After that it was a defensive struggle between two heavyweights to see who could survive. The defense for both teams was outstanding as MOCO and Calhoun thwarted attempt after attempt to put something on the board. The Dogs certainly had their chances the remainder of the game.
Wes Butler had an opportunity on a header from a corner kick with 15 minutes remaining in the half that just missed high. Yusuf Baig made a great pass to Williams on a long run. He pushed a pass to Blanton in the middle of the field, but interference was called with under 10 minutes left. Blanton got loose at the four minute mark and scored only to have it reversed on a controversial offsides call. It was a tough half, but Morgan only trailed 1-0 at intermission.
The second half was more of the same. Yellow cards were thrown on both teams as play got to a fever pitch and things got chippy from the two opponents. The Dogs actually dominated play from a time of possession, shots on goal, and field position standpoint the entire half. They just couldn’t find a way to get one in the net. Butler made a nice save in front of Morgan’s goal with a header that could have been disastrous. Grant Friddell made a great shot on a header from another corner kick that skimmed the crossbar, and 9th grader David Rachkovskiy used his speed to make an outstanding save behind a displaced Sitzmann to save a goal. The Dogs definitely had their chances in this one. They played their hearts out, but Calhoun somehow came away with the victory to move into the round of eight. It was a gut-wrenching loss for Morgan.
Coach Aaron Paul made these remarks about the game, his seniors, and the season. “I’m just sick at my stomach at the outcome of the game. Without wanting to sound arrogant or cocky, I thought we were the better team with our skill and depth. Calhoun won their Elite Eight round game and are now in the Final Four. That could have been us. We came up short, and that’s the bottom line.
I didn’t think we played up to our potential in the first half. We gave up that one goal on an unlucky situation, but played better after that, and especially in the second half. They did a good job of eliminating our wings. It was a good game plan. We dominated the second half, but just couldn’t get one in the goal. It just goes to show that in soccer and other sports, the best team doesn’t always win. Unfortunately for us, that was the case on Wednesday.
Despite the gut-wrenching loss, we have to take a step back and take a look at where we are now. We went back-to-back as Region Champs and into the second round of the playoffs. There are hundreds of teams out there that would kill to be where we are. We won more games than a year ago, and we graduated eight great senior leaders and players. These guys have been with me since day one when I took this job four years ago in 2015. They’ve worked hard and had a lot of patience with me and the staff as well as each other. This will be the group remembered as the one that put our soccer program on the map and into contention for consistent region championships and playoff berths. They created a new standard for Morgan County soccer. I certainly learned more from them than they did me.”
The seniors were: Phillip Webb, Andrew Watkins, Grant Friddell, Patrick Griffin, Russ Kimsey, Nick Seymour, Yusuf Baig, and Carlos Hernandez. Four years ago, this group of freshman didn’t even come close to a Region Championship and didn’t make the playoffs in Paul’s first year. Four years later they have been a part of the best boys’ soccer run in the history of MCHS.
According to Paul, the schedule won’t get any easier a year from now. Games with the likes of North Oconee, Jefferson, Lanier, Apalachee, Clarke Central, and other much bigger schools dot the schedule, but Paul is confident in his returning core. He said, “We’re going to miss our seniors and have to find a way to replace them, but we have 16 very talented returners. There’s also a good group of 12 eighth graders coming up from a very successful Middle School team that played for the PAC Tournament title. We’re starting to get the ball rolling to feed the high school on a consistent basis, but the standard that’s been set will be tougher to meet. I now have teams from all over the state trying to schedule games with us because they know we have a good program. That used to never happen. It’s a good thing.
It’s really all up to me to make sure we keep soccer on the forefront at all levels from youth soccer, MAYSA, summer camps for kids, and getting the community support we need. It’s important that we keep youth soccer all the way up to the high school at all levels at all times to insure we have kids coming up that are well-trained and skilled enough to contribute.”
It’s been another great season for the soccer Dogs. Congratulations on your effort and success.