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High school soccer: Johnson rides strong second-half performance to dominant win over Arabia Mountain in first round of state playoffs
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Johnson's Juan Carlos Gomez and Cherokee Bluff's Harrison Carter compete for the ball at Cherokee Bluff High School on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The Johnson boys soccer team took almost an entire half to find the back of the net in its first-round playoff game against Arabia Mountain at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium in Oakwood. But once one goal came, many more were quick to follow, as the Knights turned a close contest into a 6-0 blowout win over the Rams to advance to the second round of the Class 5A state tournament. 

Next up, Johnson will take on the winner of Villa Rica and Riverwood at home next Thursday. 

“It was one of those nights where at the beginning, goals were hard to find,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. “Once we got that first one, it forced them to step out a bit and just kind of opened the gates up a little bit.”

The Knights were led by a pair of seniors, as Junior Arellano put together a hat trick entirely in the second half, and Jonathan Miralrio scored twice.

Miralrio’s first score came right at the end of the opening 40 minutes of the contest, and set the stage for Johnson’s dominance in the second half. After a frustrating first period saw the Knights put several shots slightly wide of the net or just over the crossbar, Eliam Chavez managed to feed Miralrio on the right side of the box with a probing cross that barely cleared an Arabia Mountain defender’s head. 

With only the keeper to beat, Miralrio easily slotted the ball into the left side of the net to put Johnson up 1-0 with about 40 seconds remaining until halftime, a score that would hold going into the break.  

And while things were still close halfway through the game, Arellano said the team kept things positive during the intermission. 

“We talked in the locker room that we weren’t playing bad,” he said. “It’s just the goals weren’t coming. Not to keep getting frustrated, just keep going and eventually the shot’s going to come.”

Arellano’s patience was quickly rewarded.

Less than five minutes into the second half, senior Cole Bowen left a soft pass for Arellano near the top of the Arabia Mountain box, and Arellano scorched a shot into the right side of the net to put his team up 2-0.

Things began to snowball for the home team from there. 

Miralrio put in his second goal about three minutes later, scoring after collecting an errant Rams clearance attempt coming right in front of the goal to put the Knights up by three. Arellano scored his second goal moments later in similar fashion as the Arabia Mountain defense began to break down. 

Arellano finished his hat trick in the 59th minute of the match when Jose Gomez beat the keeper with a cross on the ground right in front of the goal that found its way to Arellano’s feet and made for an easy put away goal. Arellano connected with Gomez less than a minute later on a through ball into the left side of the box that Gomez finished off to round out the scoring for the Knights. 

Johnson’s next game comes at home next Thursday, and while the Knights don’t yet know who they’ll be playing, Arellano said the opponent will not factor very much into how the team prepares for the contest.

“We can’t really be focusing on other people,” he said. “If we play our game the way we know how to play it, I feel like we will go far and possibly win another state ring.”

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