The sights have never been set higher for the Chestatee boys soccer team, and coach Mike Herrin is well aware of his team’s potential.
The only coach in the War Eagles’ 11-year history is a firm believer that Chestatee is deserving of a spot in the Class AAAA state championship game, and Wednesday’s 6-0 first-round win over LaGrange only reinforced his statement.
“If they play their best soccer, yes, they could be playing on the Saturday of May 18,” Herrin said. “But we have to execute from whistle to whistle.’
The War Eagles (17-2) didn’t exactly do that, but Class AAAA’s third-ranked squad was hot when the occasion called for it. They turned a 1-0 halftime lead with early offensive struggles into a blowout with a monster second half, earning them a spot in the second round for the third time in team history.
Cristian Felix tallied three second-half goals and an assist, Marco Rebollar scored twice and added an assist, and Mauricio Morales buried a late penalty kick for Chestatee.
“I was really pleased with how our guys responded in the second half,” Herrin said. “We just moved the ball quicker, and it opened up the passing lanes.
“I think our guys underestimated them when we came out here. They were a little asleep to start off with and a little too relaxed moving the ball around.”
The War Eagles host fifth-ranked Northwest Whitfield in the second round next Wednesday in Gainesvile.
“We’re looking forward to the next game — that’s going to be our mental ceiling,” Herrin said. “We want to try for that silver cup at the end of the year, on May 18. We know what’s at stake. You have to get it one game at the time.”
Chestatee’s second-half spark came later than expected, considering that LaGrange (7-10-2) played down a man for the entire first half. Grangers goalkeeper Michael Coffman received a red card and was ejected from the game in the ninth minute after catching a loose ball outside of the box.
LaGrange didn’t register a single shot in the first half, but the War Eagles weren’t able to take advantage of the situation until Rebollar scored the game’s first goal with 7:05 left in the half on an assist from Roldan Reyes.
“Their keeper getting that card early in the game kind of made a difference for us,” Herrin said. “They’re very organized in the back, and the scouting reports said they’re a very good defensive team that’ll move to the ball.”
Rebollar added another goal in the opening minute of the second half, and Felix scored his first of three consecutive tallies 12 minutes later.
He connected on a free kick by Arnold Gamez, leaping for the long pass and volleying it past the LaGrange goalkeeper. His second goal came less than a minute later on a feed from Rebollar, and he secured the hat trick in the 63rd minute off a loose rebound.
“It wasn’t for the team, I wouldn’t have gotten it,” Felix said. “It seemed like in the first half we were being selfish with the ball. Then when we picked up the goals, we’d catch on with the goals.”
Morales connected on the penalty kick with 3:23 left in the game, beating the goalkeeper in the lower right corner.
Chestatee outshot LaGrange 23-4 in the game. Andres Olivas needed only three saves to record the shutout, and Cristian Zapatero replaced him late in the game.
The Grangers’ season is complete with the loss.