Johnson’s boys soccer team will not be returning to the state championship game.
Last year’s state runner-up and fifth-ranked Knights saw another memorable season prematurely end with a 2-1, overtime loss to fourth-seeded Grady on Friday night at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium. As Johnson coach Brian Shirley predicted after last week’s regular-season finale, 10th-ranked Grady fit the billing of a team that was not to be underestimated in the Class 5A soccer tournament.
In a match riddled with close calls on both sides, Johnson (14-4) relied on its stingy defense to go minute-for-minute with Grady. Senior Alex Penaloza scored the equalizer in the 31st minute, and both squads refused to budge until Johnson caught an unlucky break in one unfortunate play.
A ill-timed header from near the back line resulted in Grady’s Keven Dorcinvil — who twice put his team ahead in the match, with his first goal in the 16th minute — firing the go-ahead strike into the back of the net in the third minute of overtime.
“They had us on our heels a few times here in the game,” Shirley said. “A few times we were pressing them, had chances to score and just didn’t get one put in here at the end. Miscommunication a few times, the ball didn’t bounce our way, and they capitalized on a mistake. Hats off to them.”
Johnson’s last frantic push rolled inches wide of the left post with seconds left in extra time not long after the team pulled goalkeeper Cooper Bowen. And as the final buzzer sounded, Braden Pressman shushed Johnson’s home crowd, and Dorcinvil was hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates in front of the Grady fans to cap the upset.
“We had the capability to come back, we just didn’t capitalize on it right there,” Shirley said. “Seconds ticking off the clock, we were inches away from tying it up at the end — just wide of the post. Our guys fought. They gave it everything they had, it just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
Grady (11-5-2) moves on to play a second-round match Wednesday against No. 3 Dutchtown, which upset No. 2 Statesboro on Friday.
For both of his goals, Dorcinvill was in the right place at the right time. He was in the vicinity of a free kick delivered near midfield and came behind a ball deflected off the arms of Johnson’s goalkeeper. His rebound gave Grady the one-goal advantage in the first half.
Grady intercepted a plethora of Johnson crosses throughout the first half to interrupt its attack until Penaloza found a small opening to score the equalizer. The senior showcased his attacking instinct as he chased down a deflected ball off a cross from the right flank and put the Johnson crowd in a frenzy when he netted a last-ditch strike low and into the back of the net before stumbling forward.
Another round of cheers ensued after the center official overruled an offsides called on Penaloza.
Shirley says farewell to seniors Jonny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Thuan Dinh and Penaloza. He still foresees a bright future ahead for his team, whose season comes to an end after clinching the Region 8-5A title with an unbeaten mark in league play (6-0).
“We are a young team, and we’re excited about the future and what we have coming back,” Shirley said. “There’s a lot of people who doubted this team this year, after what we lost last year — 10 seniors. A lot of people questioned what this team was going to be capable of this year, and to come out with 14 wins and not lose a region game, I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished this year.”