By Diana Lewis
Johnson’s hot start to the season continued as the defending Class 5A state champions topped Cherokee Bluff 3-0 on Friday in Flowery Branch.
Four games in and the Knights are still unbeaten with five more on the schedule in non-region play.
Still, second-ranked Johnson coach Brian Shirley has a lot on his plate to retain the Knights’ dominance, after graduating 11 seniors from the 2018 championship squad.
“We’re still trying to find our rhythm,” said Shirley, who has guided Johnson to six region titles in 11 seasons.
Against the first-year school, Johnson went a solid 29 minutes in the first half with constant Barcelona-style tiki-taka possession, based on short and fast passes. The Knights’ patience would pay off when sophomore Eliam Chavez scored for the Knights on a set piece.
Georgia State signee and senior goalkeeper Cooper Bowen served as a last defender distributing the ball to defenders and finding pockets of space for midfielders to turn and push the attack forward.
“It’s like having another field player,” Shirley said. “He’s the backbone of the team, his vocal ability to dictate the next play and also play the ball with his feet works for our advantage.”
Bowen showcased his ability with a huge save to keep the Knights in front by a point with three minutes left before the halftime whistle.
In the second half, Bowen kept his momentum going by meeting a Cherokee Bluff attacker just outside the penalty box with a slide tackle to prevent a cross in.
Leading the Bears, goalkeeper Joey Hendrix had eight saves in front of the net.
Despite the muddy conditions of the field, where players would take take-off in full sprint only to be halted by a planted cleat in the slop, Johnson managed to put two more goals in the back of the net in the second half.
Jose Gomez chipped the sliding Cherokee Bluff keeper from an incoming corner kick, while Juan Carlos Gomez found his way around defenders with seven minutes left in the game.
“We are preparing ourselves for our difficult region teams,” Shirley said. “We played a lot of our younger players to give them experience for what is to come.”
On Tuesday, Johnson hosts Chestatee at 7:30 p.m. at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.
JOHNSON GIRLS 7, CHEROKEE BLUFF 0: Dani Malone had a hat trick for the Lady Knights. Also with goals. Jenna Degroot, Maria Rivera, Madison Booker and Carla Avalos each found the back of the net once.