GAINESVILLE — It’s impossible to win a game without putting more points on the board than the other team.
But Friday night in Class AAA state quarterfinals at City Park, No. 3 Gainesville’s 2-1 win against eighth-ranked Perry was more about the play of the Red Elephants’ defense.
Led by Charlie Bryant, Monish Lahiry, Nathan Dillard and Alberto Murrillo, Gainesville (17-0) slowed down the Panthers (18-2-1), a team that came in averaging more than six goals per game, to just four shots on goal.
“Our defense did a great job,” said Gainesville senior forward Russ Puckett. “They contained Perry’s top scorer (Karl Chester) and all of them just did a great job for us.”
With the win, Gainesville moves into the state semifinals for the first time since 2003. The Red Elephants’ lone state title came in 1998.
The team will next travel to Dalton to take on seventh-ranked Southeast Whitfield, which beat No. 5 Columbus 1-0 on Friday.
“This is all about tradition,” said Gainesville senior captain Lahiry. “We’re just trying to keep it the way it’s been.”
“This feels great,” Puckett added. “I’ve been waiting three years for this chance.”
Gainesville’s offense came out pressuring, amassing 10 shots on goal in the first half.
For the defense, however, there was a bit of an adjustment period as Chester began the game for Perry at midfield.
“After we figured them out in the first half we did play well,” Lahiry said. “Not getting to feel him out in the first half, though, kind of made the second half hard.”
Luckily for the defense, it had a bit of a cushion as Gainesville put up two scores in the first half on a Perry defense that was allowing less than one per game on the season.
The first goal came with just over eight minutes to go in the first half when Doulglass Mejia found Yunis Yanes on a cross.
Yanes one-touched the ball into the left corner of the net from point-blank range to give his team a 1-0 advantage.
The Red Elephants made it 2-0 in the 39th minute when Gabriel Osorio scored on an assist from Irving Salgado.
“After we got two goals on them I felt pretty confident,” Lahiry said. “We’ve showed we can play with direct-attack teams like Perry, and we’ve showed with can play with a team who builds up their offense through the course of the game.
“I think that also shows we’ve got a good chance to do all right in the semifinals and finals.”
Perry’s only goal of the game came 13 minutes into the second period off the foot of Chester, who played forward in the second half, and showed why Gainesville saw him as its main threat.
After getting the ball 10 yards out from the goal, Chester’s fleet-footed ways shone through as he dribbled in and scored for an unassisted goal.
Chester was responsible for all three of Perry’s shots on goal in the second half.
“We adapted to the game and did it without coach (Rick Howard),” Lahiry said. “I think that shows what a solid team we have.”
Howard, who was assessed a red card in Gainesville’s second round game, will not be on the sideline for the semifinals either, per GHSA regulations.
Perry’s season is now complete.