One said he trains for the situation everyday. The other said he “called ” that he would make the shot that would save his team from its first loss of the season.
Within a minute of each other, Chestatee goalkeeper Miguel Calderon and defender Mauricio Morales did their part to help the undefeated War Eagles trump Buford 5-4 on penalty kicks Tuesday night in Gainesville, after the two sides had tied 2-2 in regulation.
Calderon, a senior, dived quickly to his left to deny Wolves’ midfielder Colin Owen in the sixth round of penalties before Morales stepped up and blasted his own effort into the left side of the net and send Chestatee (7-0, 4-0 in Region 8-AAAA) into a frenzied celebration. The team swarmed Calderon on the sideline, while Morales sank to his knees, spent with emotion.
“We practice every day for this type of thing,” said Calderon, seconds after getting doused in water from his gleeful teammates. “Coach (Michael Herrin) told me, ‘You just do your thing.’ I know they believe in me, and in our penalty takers.”
Morales was the team’s sixth choice to take a penalty after Buford scored two late goals in the final 25 minutes of regulation to force overtime. The senior defender said he promised his teammates that, if it came down to it, he’d score the winning kick.
“I called it,” said Morales, sporting a gash on his bottom lip from an earlier collision. “I knew I was going to make it. I’ve always dreamed of doing it before.”
It took a monumental effort for the visiting Wolves (3-4-1, 3-1) to even force overtime.
Miguel Burgos knotted the game 2-2 with 1:09 left in the second half when he connected on a throw-in by Joe Gulney at Calderon’s back post. Prior to that, Chestatee seemed to be in cruise control with opening strikes from Jonathan Pedraza and Arnold Gamez putting the War Eagles 2-0 up as the game reached the hour mark.
But Christian Salgado cut the War Eagles lead in half when he banged home a shot from seven yards out in the 58th minute. Burgos scrambled his effort in after Chestatee defenders couldn’t defend Gulney’s throw-in from the opposite sideline.
“It was such a close game, in terms of passing, movement, that you could tell that we were going to get back in it,” said Buford coach Victor Lane. “It just took us 60 minutes to get into the mode that we wanted to. This is such a tough region, top to bottom, you can’t take anyone lightly.”
Riding high off of recent shutouts of Madison County and East Hall, the War Eagles attacked the Wolves’ flanks through Edwin Villafranco and Pedraza, creating six first-half shots. While the play was fluid, Chestatee was unable to convert until Pedraza collected the ball at midfield and went on a twisting, turning 40-yard run in the 36th minute through the middle of the park. He unleashed a strike from the top of the penalty box to beat Buford goalkeeper Sergio Sifuentes (four saves) and earn a halftime lead.
Junior defender Jaime Ortega found the head of Gamez off of a long-distance free kick with 22:26 left to play. With a two-goal cushion in hand, the War Eagles began to suffer mental lapses.
“I cautioned the guys not to sit on a lead like this, to keep the pressure on and not underestimate any opponent,” said Herrin. “With kids, they get happy, they take their foot off the pedal sometimes.”
Buford’s Salgado took advantage of Chestatee’s failure to quickly clear a corner and slotted home the Wolves’ opening goal on the 62nd minute. Lane’s squad, having turned the corner, began to camp in Chestatee’s half, sending in crosses from Christian Lopez and Burgos.
And with just 69 seconds left for Chestatee to hold out, Burgos gave Buford a lifeline by finishing home with a right-footed effort after Gulney’s throw-in went long.
Chestatee will embark on a seven-game road stretch, including trips to region rivals North Oconee on Friday and Johnson on March 27. Buford now faces a three-game home stretch with visits from Stephens County, Johnson and North Oconee coming up.
Herrin said he forced himself to take his emotions out of the tense shootout, taking notes on a small binder.
Juan Mejia, Arnold Gamez, Arturo Leal and Edwin Villafranco all scored past Sifuentes before Calderon blocked Owen’s attempt from the spot, allowing Morales to give Chestatee its seventh win of the season.
“We try to do some crafty things to be able to recreate the feeling of what it’s like for these kids to do this, but there’s no substitute for it,” said Herrin. “We do PKs at least twice a week. It’s a heckuva situation for these kids to be in, but they did it.”
Morales said the team will be looking forward to taking on the best that Region 8-AAAA has to offer. If Buford offers any litmus test, no lead will be safe for the War Eagles.
“It’s really important,” he said. “We’ve got the best teams coming up, and Buford was one of them. We have to go through that.”
BUFORD GIRLS 3, CHESTATEE 0: Elexa Bahr’s two second-half goals lifted sixth-ranked Buford to its third straight win Tuesday night at Chestatee High.
The Lady Wolves (7-1, 4-0 Region 8-AAAA) have shut out each of their four region opponents so far, and have outscored their last three opponents by a combined score of 19-0.
Tyler Bennett (nine saves) impressed in goal for Chestatee, but the Lady War Eagles (5-3, 3-1) were unable to put together any meaningful shots on goal.
Buford peppered the Chestatee goal with shots early, but couldn’t find the finishing touch until junior defender Isabelle Grest launched a shot from 40 yards that crept in over Bennett’s head a minute before halftime.
After starting the game in a defensive 4-5-1 formation, Chestatee coach Mark Dunn said he didn’t want to adjust the gameplan heading into the break.
“That was the plan, to play conservative for as long as we could take,” he said. “They played well in the first half, I’m proud of them. We didn’t want to break out of it after we had hung tough.”
Bahr helped break down the War Eagles’ defense midway through the second half.
Brie Smith played the junior striker into the Chestatee penalty box, allowing Bahr to tuck a shot past Bennett in the 69th minute.
Bahr turned the win into a walkover when Smith’s cross in the 76th minute found Bahr in open space on the penalty spot. She tucked Buford’s third goal in from close range to earn the Lady Wolves’ seventh win in eight games.
The loss breaks Chestatee’s five-game winning streak heading back to Feb. 27.
Buford coach Crystal Fowler said she’s used to her opponents packing the midfield to hold her team’s offense.
“Most teams know the type of offense that we’re blessed with, so they pack it up,” Fowler said. “We’re happy about our speed up front. I talked to the defenders about being patient, and they responded to the pressure.”
The Lady Wolves will return to Buford for a three-game home stretch, including visits from Stephens County on Friday and Johnson on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Chestatee will take to the road to play nonregion Rabun-Gap Nacoochee School on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.