When the Johnson boys soccer team needed a spark in Wednesday night’s Class 5A state quarterfinal match against Fayette County, it got it from its most experienced players.
The Knights trailed by a goal after 40 minutes of play, but four-year starter Junior Arellano connected on a pair of second-half goals — the decider coming off the assist from fellow senior Cooper Bowen — and Johnson claimed a 2-1 decision over the visiting Tigers to return to the Class 5A semifinals for the second consecutive year coming off last season’s state championship.
Johnson will travel to take on Starr’s Mill in Fayetteville next Tuesday. Match time is still to be determined.
“It’s mine and our seniors last home game in the stadium, so for us, the intensity we gave first half, it wasn’t good,” Arellano said. “But we came back second half and got the job done, and that’s all that matters.”
Fayette County struck the first blow in the 26th minute when Andy Hernandez picked out Owen Mikoy in the front right side of the box on the counter to put the Tigers up 1-0 about halfway through the opening half.
The goal created the first deficit the Knights have faced in this year’s playoffs, and the 1-0 score held going into halftime. Despite the less than ideal situation, Johnson coach Brian Shirley said there was no need to make any drastic changes out of the break.
“The only thing we really talked about at halftime was increasing the work rate, increasing the amount of energy we’re putting on the field,” he said. “We didn’t really adjust too much. We just tried to perfect some of the stuff we were doing.”
For the most part, Arellano was in agreement.
“The only thing is first half they had more heart than we did,” he said. “We didn’t have enough heart.”
In the second half, Arellano made sure to correct that error.
About eight minutes out of halftime, he collected a ball off his stomach in the Fayette County box after battling with a Tiger defender. Arellano didn’t have the cleanest look, but still managed to push the ball into the right side of the net with his off foot to equalize and give Johnson new life.
Barely five minutes later, Arellano was at it again.
After Bowen grabbed a save in front of two Fayette County forwards, Arellano immediately started sprinting toward the opposition’s goal. Bowen punted the ball high over the Tigers defensive line, and after taking a few bounces, it found Arellano’s foot with no one standing between him and the opposing goalkeeper.
Arellano chipped his shot over the keeper to put his team up 2-1, a score that would stand for the remainder of the match.
Shirley said the experience of his seniors was a key element to Wednesday’s win.
“It’s huge,” he said. “You’ve got Cole (Bowen), Cooper (Bowen), Junior (Arellano), some of these other guys that have been varsity for four years. They’ve played in big games, and just know what it’s like in the moment. That’s one of those x factors that definitely comes up.”
The result marks the final home game for the careers of Johnson’s seniors, making the win a bittersweet moment for the fourth-year athletes who have played their final soccer game at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.
Arellano said he was pleased with the way this one turned out. He also said that he and the rest of the team still have plenty to prove.
“I wish I could spend the rest of my life here, but it’s over,” he said. “I’m happy that I came out my senior year winning at home. I think the final step is giving this crowd what they want, and that’s another state ring.”