Even without its head coach, the Gainesville boys soccer team produced enough scoring chances to win its postseason opener by a wider margin.
Diego Porras and Cesar Regaldo each found the back of the net, and the Red Elephants defeated Tucker 2-0 in a Class AAAAA first-round state playoff game that featured a pair of disallowed goals and even more near misses.
Gainesville (15-2-1) watched two goals in the second half get scratched by a hand ball call and an offsides whistle. The Red Elephants also hit the crossbar twice in a three-minute span.
“We pulled it out 2-0,” Gainesville captain Ricardo Gomez said. “It wasn’t pretty, but sometimes it’s like that.”
The Red Elephants played their first of two games without coach Rick Howard, who is serving a suspension after being ejected during Friday’s game against Clarke Central. He’ll be absent for Gainesville’s second-round game against the winner of Lithia Springs and Sequoyah, a game that will that be played Saturday after being postponed Tuesday due to the threat of inclement weather.
Assistant coaches Dane Robar and Dave Head shared head coaching duties, but let the players do most of the decision-making on the field.
Everything still went according to plan, and Gainesville is in the second round for the sixth straight year.
“I think they were ready for it,” Robar said. “I think the worst impact was when (Howard) left the game last week. He got them prepared to play without him, and they did an excellent job.”
Porras gave the Red Elephants some early momentum by heading in an assist from Erik Bonilla in the 11th minute, tallying the only goal in a first half dominated by Gainesville’s offense.
Tucker (8-7-1) opened the second half with its best scoring chance of the game, a breakaway shot by Hermann Kounga Kayim that sailed over the Gainesville net and out of play.
“They get that one goal, it’s 1-1 and a completely different game,” Gomez said.
“That first goal was a relief, but I didn’t think we could hold it, because they had momentum. They get one goal, and they’re going.”
Regaldo’s insurance goal didn’t come until 73rd minute, but Gainesville was just relieved to finally get the ball back in the net. The two disallowed goals and shots off the crossbar all came within a nine-minute span midway through the second half.
It began with Christian Ochoa’s tally in the 56th minute, which was waived off on an offsides call. Thirty seconds later, he nailed the crossbar.
Porras followed in similar fashion by hitting the crossbar in the 60th minute, then watched his second goal disappear five minutes later when referees concluded the ball hit his arm before he took the shot.
“The only reason the score wasn’t higher is they were playing an excellent offside trap,” Robar said. “They kind of bogged us down because we were offsides all the time. The guys figured it out at the end.
“Just some bad luck on shots. We had the post, then a hand ball on one. Once they figured out that trap, they picked it up and did really well.”
Gainesville will find out its second-round venue Saturday.
A Sequoyah win will bring the game back to City Park Stadium on Tuesday. A Lithia Springs win will put the Red Elephants on the road.
“I think the hardest game for us will be next week, because we still don’t have coach Howard and it’s going to be tougher competition,” Robar said. “But the boys are so good at stepping up, and I think that’s the key here.”
Tucker’s season is complete with the loss.