Bryant Anaya didn’t falter when placed in an unfamiliar situation Tuesday.
For that, the Johnson boys soccer team can thank him for keeping its season alive.
Anaya scored on a header off a corner kick in the third minute of double-overtime, and the Knights held on 2-1 win over Carrollton in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs in Oakwood.
Typically pushing back defenders instead of scoring goals in corner kick situations, the Johnson (19-1) sophomore was in the right position in front of the net on the feed by Luis Deltoro, angling the deflection so it bounced past Trojans (11-8) goalkeeper Ethan Neild.
“I just saw it coming to me,” Anaya said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going in.”
Two minutes later, the Knights were celebrating their first trip to the state quarterfinals since 2006. They’ll host Cairo on Friday with a chance to reach the semifinals for the first time in a decade.
“We’re going for that ring,” Anaya said. “That’s what we’ve been working hard for — that ring.”
Anaya was just one of the many Johnson players that emerged as heroes in the second-round game.
Fabian Abarca notched his third goal of the postseason on a header to break a scoreless tie in the 53rd minute, and Ivan Salcido made a brilliant diving save on a final scoring attempt by Carrollton’s Gustavo Rivera with 23 seconds left in the second overtime.
Not bad for a team that didn’t play in any overtime games this season.
“They really respond well to those type of situations, so I’m not really surprised that they come out and step up and make plays, given the magnitude of something like this,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. “We start four sophomores, and they’re growing up quick. That’s all you can ask for — you put them in a situation, and they rise up to it and succeed.”
Class AAAA’s second-ranked Knights set a team record for wins in a season with the victory, and now sit three wins away from the program’s first state soccer title.
Getting there won’t be easy in the slightest bit. Friday’s opponent, Cairo, visits Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium with a 14-4-2 record and a four-game winning streak at hand. Eighth-ranked Southeast Whitfield remains alive on Johnson’s side of the bracket. And Dalton, the top-ranked team in Class AAAA, continues to roll on the other side with an unbeaten record.
Tenth-ranked Carrollton was also no pushover. The Trojans controlled the pace of the game early in the first half and again in the moments leading up to Jordan Byrd’s game-tying goal in the 67th minute.
“We were a little disappointed with the way we played in the first half,” Shirley said. “Our touch was a little off, we were having a little trouble stringing together passes. I don’t know if it was the heat or what it was. Maybe a little bit of nerves, but the second half we settled down a little bit and got it going a little bit smoother.”
After a scoreless first half, Abarca headed in a pass from Alberto Deltoro — also a header — off Luis Deltoro’s free kick.
Abarca, who scored twice in Johnson’s playoff opener against Marist on Friday, left the game in 76th minute with a leg cramp he acquired after chasing down a loose ball. He briefly returned in the first overtime, but left shortly thereafter and did not return.
Byrd’s goal came off a short pass from Henry Hernandez. The shot was angled high and out of reach of Knights goalkeeper Ivan Salcido.
The junior goalkeeper certainly made up for the allowed goal with his last-minute save, which secured Johnson’s lead as time expired in the second overtime.
“Right place, right time,” Shirley said. “That’s about as clutch as you can get right there with the game coming down to the wire.”
Carrollton, a Class AAA state semifinalist in 2012, is done for the season with the loss.