The Gainesville players and coach Rick Howard knew what to expect from Woodward Academy forward Cameron Moseley, a sophomore with a football build and a nose for the net.
For most of the game Saturday at a near-capacity City Park Stadium, the second-ranked Red Elephants kept him in check.
“We knew that they were a strong team coming in, and I think we defended them well,” Howard said. “And except for the 5 seconds (Moseley) needed to score, I thought we played great defense against him, but that’s how the ball rolls sometimes.”
The Woodward Academy sophomore scored two quick goals, one in each half, to hold off Gainesville 2-0 in the Georgia High School Association Class AAA boys soccer state championship game.
It was just two years ago that Gainesville (19-2-1) went to College Park and beat Woodward (18-3-1) 3-2 in penalty kicks to win state.
Matt Holmes, the coach of the top-ranked War Eagles, was happy to see his team finally break through after two consecutive runner-up finishes.
““We’ve been very close the last few years, and to put it away, that’s great for the players,” he said. “I thought we were deserved winners, but my hands go out to Gainesville.”
Many of this season’s eight Red Elephants seniors had started on that 2010 state championship team as well. It’s a class that reached two state championship games, and won one, in a storied four-year run.
“I love my teammates, and we gave it everything we had on this field,” said senior Charlie Bryant, who switched from midfield to defense midway through the game to make up for an injury.
“The bonds we have cannot be broken in one single day.”
Howard echoed those sentiments, especially for the seniors.
“Though we were not successful tonight, those seniors have been so successful,” he said. “They’ve taught me more about coaching than any other team has.”
Early on, it looked as though the seniors might finish with a pair of state titles, as Gainesville dominated possession for nearly the first 15 minutes.
The Red Elephants had a few good opportunities to score, including a one-one-one with the Woodward keeper that sailed wide, missed opportunities that would loom large later in the game.
“We had to take them when we had them,” Bryant said of the early opportunities. “They made theirs and we didn’t, and that’s the game.”
The senior also mentioned the numerous fouls and yellow cards called throughout the game.
“The refereeing was a little bit inconsistent,” he said. “And that’s frustrating as a player.”
Moseley was the other great source of frustration, especially for the Gainesville defense. The backs, including Bryant, kept him in check until 12 minutes to go in the first half, when Moseley corralled a long pass in the box and fired it by the keeper to put the War Eagles on the board.
“He’s an incredible player,” Bryant said. “And I give him all the credit for the goals.”
The second goal, near the end of a second half that included a number of yellow cards and fouls as the intensity turned up, was all Moseley.
The War Eagles forward tiptoed his way down the baseline, dodged Gainesville defenders and fired a no-angle shot that hit the far crossbar and bounced in. With just 2:15 remaining in the game, it effectively sealed a Woodward win.
The War Eagles recorded 16 shots on the day, nine on target, of which Gainesville keeper Edgar Espinoza saved seven, a number of them on athletic, diving plays to keep the Red Elephants in the game.
Gainesville recorded 10 shots, four on goal. It was the first time all season a team had scored more than one goal against Gainesville, and only the second time a team had held the Red Elephants scoreless.