Although the score line looked favorable Tuesday night, Brian Shirley said he will keep his Johnson team focused in the film room this week to make sure it doesn’t fall prey to bad habits.
“We didn’t work hard off the ball,” said Shirley, coming off of Johnson’s 7-2 victory over North Hall in Gainesville. “It was good that we turned it on when we did to get the win, but it put us in a bad spot.”
Senior striker Fabian Abarca notched a hat trick, sophomore midfielder Rigo Campa added two goals, while Edgar Torres and Marco Vazquez added the finishing touches. The top-ranked Knights (8-0, 3-0 Region 8-AAAA) led 4-0 by the 46th minute before Alec Zimmerman and Blanton Jimerson knocked in a goal apiece in the following 10 minutes for North Hall.
However, Campa scored his brace in the space of five minutes to cool the Trojans’ comeback before Abarca (19 goals this season) finished off his third goal with nine minutes left to play.
“I think I shine better when the team needs me most,” said Abarca. “I play for the team, doing whatever I need to do to make sure we get the win.”
It seemed as if North Hall might stage an unlikely comeback when Jimerson and Zimmerman sliced the Knights’ lead in half with 22 minutes remaining. Hunter Carter had his 57th minute penalty saved just seconds before Jimerson was able to get his head on a cross from the right wing. Zimmerman’s solo run down the left wing gave North Hall (1-4-2, 0-1) its opening goal, as well as the will to stay alert when he finished low under Johnson keeper Cooper Bowen.
“We knew they’d be the more technical team,” said North Hall coach Chris Henry. “What we needed to do was to communicate, be physical and cause it to be hectic. We made it tough, but we gave up some goals that shouldn’t have in the first half.”
Torres was the beneficiary of such an occasion when his cross-come-shot slipped under the legs of the Trojans goalkeeper and into the net in the 13th minute. Abarca opened the scoring in the third minute and notched his second with 37 seconds left in the first half when his long-range effort rocketed into the bottom-right of the North Hall goal mouth.
Abarca said his team has done well to latch onto his through balls in midfield, which has allowed Johnson to renew attacks when play gets bogged down.
“Everyone is going to key in on me, so it’s good that they can always open, two or three guys,” said Abarca.
Shirley said he was disappointed that his team wasn’t consistent enough at moving into open spaces when not controlling the ball, which he said led to North Hall’s second-half revival. Zimmerman’s finish came just a minute after Marco Vazquez’s header made it 4-0 Johnson.
“We got stuck playing the air game,” said Shirley. “Eventually, we started putting the ball on the ground and switching the point of attack. It was disappointing that the things that we train for don’t come together and it gets static.”
Still, the Knights pulled together in the midfield and would go on to dominate much of the possession. Rigo Campa restored a four-goal cushion when he knocked home a cross from six yards out in the 63rd minute before completing a right-footed strike just four minutes later.
Abarca got on the right end of a cross by Cole Bowen in the 70th as Johnson secured what ended up being a comfortable victory.
Johnson next travels to take on Class AAA power East Hall 7:30 p.m. Friday to finish a three-game road trip. The second-ranked Vikings are also 8-0 heading into Friday’s matchup at Valhalla.
North Hall next hosts Class AAAAAA side Habersham Central 7:30 p.m. Friday.
NORTH HALL GIRLS 1, JOHNSON 0: Katie Estrada was hoping for the slightest bit of luck as she struck a lofted ball from 17 yards out at the Johnson High goal.
So she couldn’t help but stand in shock when her shot from the right wing nestled into the top-left corner of the Knights’ net for a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute that would hand North Hall (3-3, 1-0 Region 8-AAAA) its first region victory of the year.
“I didn’t think it would go,” said Estrada. “I was so surprised. I just thought ‘I’ll shoot.’ I guess that shot’s better than most.”
Alexis Flanagan did well to slide Estrada into an open position on the top of the box, allowing the striker to notch her eighth goal of the 2016 campaign and the game-winner Tuesday night in Gainesville.
The Lady Trojans are well on their way to matching last season’s win total (5). North Hall coach Gary Gaddy said he hopes this team is changing the culture of what’s expected for the program.
“We want to make the state playoffs,” said Gaddy. “Our first win, one for one, we can really take a step forward.”
Freshman Dani Malone squandered Johnson’s best chance of an equalizer in the second half when she slid her right-footed effort past the far post with 1:30 left to play. The Knights (3-4-1, 1-2) will next travel to play East Hall on 5:30 p.m. Friday as the finale of a three-game road trip.
Johnson finished with eight shots, including seven in the second half as the Lady Knights put more pressure on North Hall following Estrada’s goal. Both teams finished with four shots on goal.
“If she can get a half of a yard, I’ve told her to take those kinds of shots,” said Gaddy. “She’s our goalscorer.”
North Hall next tackles Chestatee on the road 5:55 p.m. Tuesday.