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High school soccer: Gainesville boys top arch-rival Johnson in penalty shootout
Goalkeeper Augustin Garcia recorded the game-clinching save for a 2-2 (3-2 PKs) win
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Gainesville's Pedro Santos (14) kicks the ball during the game between Johnson and Gainesville High at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium in Gainesville, on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Between boys soccer powerhouses Gainesville and Johnson, coaches Elie Viviant and Brian Shirley could agree a draw will never cut it in a storied rivalry game such as this.

And given the Red Elephants’ shortfalls in three-straight meetings prior, Viviant certainly wasn’t going to settle for anything less this time around.

Gainesville goalkeeper Augustin Garcia recorded the game-clinching stop in the sudden-death portion of a penalty shootout as Gainesville edged Johnson 2-2 (3-2) Friday, February 23, in Oakwood, snapping a three-game losing streak to its arch rival and delivering a hard-earned, feel-good triumph for second-year coach Elie Viviant and the Red Elephants on the young season.

“It was an effort win...It was just a crazy game,” laughed Viviant. “People are going to be tired this weekend, I can guarantee that.”

It was a see-saw battle lasting two five-minute overtime periods before the decisive penalty shootout between what Viviant described as two of the best programs in the state. 

After trailing 1-0 at halftime, Michael Arcia scored both goals for Johnson (6-1) in the second half, his second in the 56th minute to give the hosts a 2-1 lead that was short-lived. Erick Serrato netted the equalizer for the Red Elephants in the 69th minute of regulation.

Both squads sweated and pushed through both overtime periods, cueing a thrilling penalty kick portion of the match in which the Red Elephants prevailed. This marks the 10th-straight meeting in which the outcome was decided by one goal or overtime. Last February, the Knights put together a 1-0 overtime win at City Park Stadium.

“When you push it like that, it’s just nice to win a game like this, obviously,” Viviant said. “That’s why with coach Shirley every year, we decide we will not go for a tie. We want for one of us to win. ...I appreciate coach Shirley for that.”

The Red Elephants (5-0) climbed out of a 2-1 hole in the shootout, netting three-straight spot kicks from Cristian Rodriguez, Darvin Velasquez and Edwin Garcia to set up the final staredown between Gainesville goalkeeper Augustin Garcia and Johnson’s Cole Bowen.

After fending off Johnson’s first spot kick in the shootout, Garcia’s only strategy was to anticipate and execute. He did both beautifully, shuffling left and using both hands, deflected the strike away to elicit pandemonium for the Gainesville crowd.

The junior quickly sprung to his feet and sprinted toward a mob of teammates right in front of the visiting section of the bleachers. 

“We deserve this more than anything right now,” said a winded Garcia. “We were playing as a family and playing as a unit. Even after they scored those two goals (in the second half), I just knew I had to step up to give my team a chance to win. ...These are great guys. (In) 2015, 2016 and 2017 they beat us three times in a row, and I wanted (us) to win.”

Gainesville carried a one-goal advantage into the break, only after both defenses fended a slew of strikes. 

Johnson certainly had their opportunities early with five chances off the set piece in the first half, including two corners. The Knights’ best look on goal came off a third set piece in the 14th minute, when Marco Vazquez tried to bank a header off Hebert Figueroa’s free kick attempt from near midfield, though Vazquez pulled his attempt left of the post.

Minutes later, the Red Elephants began their pursuit.

Pedro Santos about gave the Knights all they could handle, as his first look off the dribble sailed wide left of the post during the 22nd minute. 

Gainesville finally broke through Johnson’s defenses in the 34th minute, when Edwin Garcia, from the right flank, rolled a right-footed cross into the feet of Dennis Turcios, who picked up his own rebound off Johnson’s sliding goalkeeper Cooper Bowen and rolled the putback into the net for a 1-0 lead.

It came minutes after Santos nearly gave the Red Elephants the lead off an intercepted pass from goalkeeper Bowen inside the penalty box, and his right-footed kick pinballed off the right and left posts with under 11 minutes left in the first half.

The game then gained a whole new gear minutes into the second half, Johnson delivering the next two strikes off Arcia.

Minutes after Marco Vasquez’s right-footed shot was punched away by an outstretched Garcia, Arcia netted the game’s first equalizer, chopping a left-footed strike from 30-yards out in the 49th minute.

His second and final goal of the night came off during a Johnson counter. Arcia snuck behind a Gainesville defender inside the penalty box, and delivered another chopper past goalkeeper Garcia into the right corner of the net for Johnson’s only lead.

The Knights also received clutch stops from the goalkeeper Bowen, his biggest deep inside the penalty box the 54th minute of regulation to preserve what proved to be Johnson’s only lead of the night. During one of the last attacks by the Red Elephants, Bowen notched a kick save near the left post, only to spring to his feet and fall on another near-strike by Santos on the opposite end. 

In the 69th minute, Serrato’s equalizing score deflected off a Johnson defender, rolling past a retreating Bowen and into the net.

Both squads play home matches at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday, with Gainesville hosting Flowery Branch at City Park Stadium, and Johnson against non-region McIntosh at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.

JOHNSON GIRLS 4, GAINESVILLE GIRLS 3: Carla Avalos curled in the equalizing goal from the left flank in the 77th minute, while teammate Itzel Rivera rolled a low shot just underneath the reach of Gainesville’s goalkeeper for the go-ahead score — her second of the night — with 1:07 left to lift the Lady Knights (4-1) to a victory in what was a back-and-forth battle ripe with breakaway chances.

Rivera’s heroics came minutes after the Lady Red Elephants (1-3), who tied it at 2-all before the break, nearly put the game to rest in the 72nd minute off the counter attack. Amayia Lukie (three goals) tracked down a beautifully placed ball up the middle, took a touch and rolled her strike into the right pocket for the hat trick and a Gainesville 3-2 advantage.

Johnson, otherwise, appeared to dominate the second half in terms of shots on goal and duration in the attacking third. 

Lukie scored her other two goals inside the final five minutes of the first half.

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