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Gainesville boys soccer blanks Johnson in battle of state-ranked squads
Porras' second-half goal lifts Red Elephants past Knights
Johnson goalkeeper Hannah Hodge stops a shot in front of teammate Sofy Munoz and Gainesville's Breana Fair, left, and Rachel Dillard on Friday in Oakwood. - photo by Jared Putnam | The Times

Interview with Elizabeth Smart

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Gainesville and Johnson’s storied boys soccer rivalry no longer holds region implications.

But it sure feels like it.

Diego Porras scored in the 43rd minute, and the Red Elephants held on to beat their previously unbeaten rival Tuesday in Oakwood.

Playing in front a raucous Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium crowd under a constant downpour, Class AAAAA’s second-ranked Gainesville’s handed the Knights, also ranked No. 2 but in AAAA, their first loss of the season.

“I think it was two incredibly good teams battling,” Red Elephants coach Rick Howard said. “They had their opportunities and we were very fortunate. We had our opportunities. It was a good, even game.”

Formerly region foes, the two teams separated by 6 ½ miles have spent years battling for soccer supremacy in Hall County. They parted ways after classification realignment in 2012, but still never go a season without crossing paths.

And like Friday, the games are always spirited.

“There’s passion,” said Howard, whose team has won 10 straight. “Look at the crowd, listen to the crowd. Listen to the way Johnson gave their heart and our guys gave their heart.”

Gainesville (14-1-1, 7-0 Region 8-AAAAA) has one game remaining in the regular season, a matchup with Clarke Central for the Region 8-AAAAA championship Tuesday at City Park Stadium.

With a shutout against Johnson (15-1, 7-1 Region 8-AAAA) and one goal allowed in their last eight games, the Red Elephants head into the battle against Class AAAAA’s third-ranked Gladiators with plenty of momentum.

“We divided up the season into thirds, and this is what we call the home stretch,” Howard said. “We need a lot of tough competition to get ready for the playoffs.”

Porras scored the game’s only goal after stealing a pass between a pair of Johnson defenders and breaking into the box with a hard shot that ripped past Johnson goalkeeper Ivan Salcido.

The tally ended a long series of close calls and missed scoring opportunities on both ends of the field, and proved to be the only costly miscue by either team.

“What we talked about in the second half is that we wanted to play a little bit further up,” Howard said. “We wanted to play behind them, and give us more space.

“On a night like this, it gave us a little more direct play and opened up the game a little.”

The wet conditions limited legitimate scoring opportunities but not the physical play, as the two teams bruised their way through a scoreless first half.

Johnson saw a near miss 10 minutes after the whistle, when Luis Deltoro fired a free kick from 30 yards out that bounced off the crossbar.

Twenty-three minutes later, Deltoro was tripped by Gainesville’s Christian Escaleria as they raced towards the net, but Johnson was not awarded a penalty kick despite the two players falling down inside the box.

Fabian Abarca took the ensuing free kick just inches behind the box line, feeding a pass to Deltoro, whose shot sailed over the net.

“Johnson really took it to us, and rightly so, and should’ve had a goal,” Howard said.

Gainesville watched two scoring attempts fall short in the first half, including a 17th-minute cross from Roberto Nunez to Christian Ochoa, who had the perfect angle in front of the goal for an easy header. Johnson defender Kevin Flores broke up the play by heading the ball out of bounds.

The 26th minute saw Cesar Regaldo’s long-range free kick sail towards the net with speed, but a save by Salcido neutralized the scoring opportunity.

In the second half, Ricardo Gomez placed a free kick too high at the 42-minute mark, and watched a header by Regaldo off his corner kick end up in the hands of a diving Salcido in the 69th minute.

Johnson, which as already clinched the Region 8-AAAA title, visits Lanier on Monday to wrap up region play.

JOHNSON GIRLS 4, GAINESVILLE 2: Logan Dumanowsky, Hannah Hester and Evelin Aviata each scored, and the Lady Knights won their 10th straight game Friday.

Johnson (10-5-1, 6-1 Region 8-AAAA) also scored on misplayed deflection by Gainesville that rolled into the Lady Red Elephants’ net.

The Lady Knights have not lost a game since March 4 after a 0-5-1 start to the season. They have outscored opponents 44-6 during the win streak, and have a chance to win a region title with a win against Lanier on Monday in Sugar Hill.

Friday’s game featured five goals over a 14-minute span early in the second half, including two by Johnson within two minutes of each other that allowed the Lady Knights to take a 3-1 lead through 50 minutes.

Gainesville (11-3, 6-1 Region 8-AAAAA) moved back within one, 3-2, with Breana Fair’s second of two goals in the 53rd minute. Aviata put Johnson back ahead by two with a tally two minutes later.

The Lady Knights led 1-0 at halftime after a Dumanowsky’s free kick goal in the 19th minute.

Gainesville can secure second place in Region 8-AAAAA and home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs with a win against Clarke Central on Tuesday at City Park Stadium.

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