COLLEGE PARK – Through 79 minutes of play, the East Hall boys soccer team had every opportunity to keep its historic playoff run alive in Thursday’s Class AAA state semifinal match against Woodward Academy.
In the 80th minute, it came to a sudden end with one play.
With 52.6 seconds left to play, Woodward Academy’s Nolan Hall scored on a penalty kick to lift the defending Class AAA state champion War Eagles over the Vikings (13-4-1) to a 1-0 win in College Park.
In a match seemingly destined for overtime play, Woodward Academy was awarded the game-winning penalty kick after East Hall’s Sherman Lucero tripped up Chris Kendall inside during a break toward the Vikings net.
Hall arced the shot over Emmanuel Andrade, who dove to his left side on the attempt.
“They played their game, and they played hard,” East Hall coach Chris Horton said. “It could’ve bounced either way.”
The game was the fourth-ranked Vikings’ first-ever appearance in the Class AAA state semifinals. They entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, but outlasted region champion West Hall and No. 2 seed North Hall during a playoff run that included wins over state powers Blessed Trinity and North Murray.
“The depth in AAA is phenomenal – you have all good teams in our region,” Horton said. “There are no real seed in either of these areas that you can’t say doesn’t have a shot.”
Woodward Academy (13-6-1) returns to the championship match for the fourth consecutive season Friday, when it visits top-ranked St. Pius X in a battle between two Region 6-AAA teams in Atlanta.
The Golden Lions defeated the War Eagles 6-1 during regular season play on April 19.
“A fantastic achievement, especially with the amount of players that we lost last year,” Woodward Academy coach Matt Holmes said. “We’re not the biggest, and we’ll take their licks along the way.
“We’re very proud right now.”
The War Eagles played a more conservative game in the first half, allowing East Hall more time in their zone but kept the shot count at a minimal 2-1 in their favor at the half.
The second half featured a quicker, more aggressive Woodward Academy offense, a style more similar that of the fast Hall County teams the Vikings are accustomed to facing.
But neither style of play generated any goals for either team until the 79th minute, when both sides looked prepared for a round of overtime to settle the score.
Overtime was one minute too late for East Hall, which concludes its season with the loss.
“This time of the season and these games back-to-back, our depth is just not there with a private school that maybe has a little bit more depth,” Horton said. “I subbed where I can and did what I could with I got, but with key people injured, that’s just part of soccer.”
The Vikings graduate a large senior class this year and will be younger in 2014, according to Horton.
But the team also lost 11 players from last season’s squad, and still advanced a round further than it did in 2012.
“It’s just hard to know – you never what you get and what’s coming up,” Horton said. “It could go either way.”