When you’re Elie Viviant, sheer will doesn’t always merit postseason success. But In the defense of Gainesville’s boys soccer program, it won them a second-round playoff game that went the distance Wednesday night at City Park Stadium.
With their backs against the wall, the third-ranked Red Elephants found a way to gut out a 2-1, double overtime triumph against a deceptively-talented No. 3 seed in Alexander.
In what was the first instance Gainesville was pushed to extra time on the pitch this year, Edwin Garcia elicited pandemonium from the Gainesville crowd as he netted the go-ahead goal in double overtime to grant the Red Elephants passage in the Class 6A tournament.
“We played our hearts out til the last minute,” said Garcia, who off the cross from teammate Erick Serrato chested the ball down before unloading a volley strike past a diving goalkeeper and into the lower right pocket with under three minutes left.
“We had to keep our heads in the game. Coach told us at the end of regulation to keep our heads in it, ‘we still got this.’ So that’s all that matters.”
The Red Elephants (18-2) were already scrambling for answers before then, watching a number of promising strikes swatted away by Alexander goalkeeper Nick Collado. But it was just enough to put them through to the quarterfinals for the second-straight season.
Garcia’s heroics came minutes after classmate Cristian Rodriguez netted the equalizer off a far, looping free kick in the 76th minute of regulation, and goalkeeper Augustin Garcia corralled a critical save off an Alexander breakaway — one of the three created by the Cougars in the match — soon after.
It wasn’t pretty, but Viviant said he will gladly take this one as the Red Elephants now must reset for a third-round game this Saturday against No. 2 seed Richmond Hill.
“We’ll have to play a little bit better than that,” said Red Elephants coach Viviant. “We had chances, but we didn’t have great chances. We didn’t create the 1-on-1 with the goalie like they did three or four times. ...Now, everybody thinks --and we do too-- that we have a chance. But no win is easy anymore (in the playoffs).”
This one wasn’t easy either.
The No. 3 team out the Region 5-6A, the Douglasville-based Cougars (11-6-1) entered the postseason on a hot streak, routing its region champion 8-1 before pulling off the upset of No. 2 Sprayberry in the opening round last week. They proceeded to give the top-seeded Red Elephants fits on their home pitch.
The Cougars speedy attacking front led by senior Reese Ward and Juan J. Ochoa created a slew of opportunities in space and nearly gave them the lead minutes removed from the opening whistle. Ward sniffed out a poorly passed ball from a defender in space to set up a potential go-ahead goal. Ward threaded a ball to Ochoa to collect it inside the 18-yard box, but a Gainesville defender cut off the scoring lane before Ochoa could get off a shot.
The Cougars created their 1-on-1 chances off the long ball and scattered them throughout regulation and the first overtime period.
Alexander’s second breakaway off a long pass resulted in Ward breaking the scoreless tie in the 49th minute. Dribbling down the left flank, Ward sped past a Gainesville defender before slotting his left-footed shot in the right corner pocket for 1-0.
In the 76th minute, Ward’s second breakaway goal of the night was dismissed by an offsides call. And in the closing seconds of regulation, Garcia cradled a hard strike from Ward on his third and final breakaway.
Besides that, It was a first half of riddled with missed opportunities for both squads.
“I felt we had the advantage, but you have to score goals, and we didn’t do that and it took us a long time to do that,” Viviant said.