What: Gainesville vs. Perry
When: 7 tonight
Where: City Park
With just over a minute left in regulation in Gainesville’s 3-1 overtime win against Riverwood, the Red Elephants’ boys soccer coach Rick Howard was ejected.
As a result, Howard won’t be on hand to witness the fruits of his team’s labor when third-ranked Gainesville takes on eighth-ranked Perry in the Class AAA state quarterfinals at 7 tonight at City Park.
“It’ll hurt not being there with my boys and not sharing in their joy,” Howard said. “But my assistants are more than capable of doing a great job, probably more capable than I am.
“The great thing is, is that my job really gets done in practice and I can’t be removed from that. So tonight is about the team, as it should be, and us making it to the semifinals.”
And if Gainesville’s (16-0) play in the waning minutes against No. 10 Riverwood and in the first round against Cedartown is any indication, the Red Elephants could be well on their way.
“The team is upbeat and excited,” Howard said. “They’re very happy about turning the game around in overtime against Riverwood and are looking forward to keeping that level of play going.”
For starters, there’s Marco Monreal who stopped a penalty kick with two minutes to go in regulation against Riverwood and the score tied at one.
Monreal had six saves in the game.
In the first round against Cedartown, Monreal earned his eighth shutout of the season.
“It’s relaxing knowing we’ve got somebody backing us up,” Howard said. “It’s another element and allows us to take risks in our attack, because Marco has improved so much.
“This is his year, and his time to shine.”
Then there’s the play of the offense, which scored four goals in the team’s first round win and two goals in the 10-minute overtime period Tuesday to give Gainesville a berth in the quarterfinals.
“This team is focused right now,” Howard said. “The guys are coming in asking the right questions about Perry and want information that will hopefully help them win.”
Perry (18-1-1) comes into tonight’s game on a nine game winning streak having beat Jackson 5-0 in the first round and Richmond Hill 3-1 in Round 2.
The Panthers, led by forwards Tyler Griger and Karl Chester, have very good offensive attack, according to Howard, and average 6.1 goals per game. In fact, in their last five games, they’ve scored a total of 29 goals while giving up only two.
“We’re going to have to make sure we defend well as a team,” Howard said. “We have to prevent them from going one-on-one with any of our defenders or (Marco) Monreal.”
Two other keys to a victory tonight in Howard’s mind is his team’s ability to possess the ball and capitalize on scoring opportunities.
The latter might be the biggest key, however, considering that Perry is allowing 0.9 goals per game this season.
“We have to put the ball in the back of the net,” Howard said. “We had great opportunities in the first half against Riverwood and had a number of opportunities against Cedartown.
“Possessing the ball will be huge and getting people in scoring position will be huge, but we have to score.
“This is the final eight, we aren’t going to have that many more opportunities so we need to capitalize on them when we do have them.”