CARROLLTON — No, this wasn’t your typical first-round playoff encounter.
With two of Class AAA’s top-10 teams meeting in the first round of the state playoffs, both sides understood it was going to be an all-out affray, and it was the Carrollton High boys soccer team still standing with a 2-1 victory over Johnson on Thursday night at Grisham Stadium.
“It was a battle. I mean, it was back-and-forth, back-and-forth. The pace was unbelievable,” Trojan coach Scott New said. “I think all of them — on both sides — are exhausted. We were able to survive. And that’s the key in the playoffs. It’s not always pretty.
The second-seeded Trojans, ranked No. 5 in the state, fell behind the third-seeded Knights (11-4) out of Region 7 near the 20-minute mark of the first half on a Juan Morphin goal that made it a 1-0 ball game.
Carrollton (13-6) got it back to even just before the half when senior midfielder Taylor Stone knocked one through the back of the net on a Juan Vargas assist with 8:24 remaining in the first half to knot it up at 1-1.
The decisive goal came with 16:55 left in the game when Trojan senior forward Colton Huebner scored on a Stone assist to make it 2-1. New said Joel Smith’s pass to Stone was the pivotal play on what ultimately became the game-winning goal.
From there, the Trojans focused on holding a crafty Knights squad at bay for the remainder of the contest, something New said was especially tough with how well Johnson utilized its throw-ins.
“Johnson’s a very good team. I thought they played extremely well. They’re very dangerous on their set pieces,” New said. “They play hard. They work hard. And they’ve got some talented players. So we were fortunate to be able to come back once we were down. Not to drop our heads, but to be able to fight back and get a goal back before the half. Then in the second half we were fortunate enough to put in another one to win it.”
Johnson coach Brian Shirley noted how it was a tremendous game from both sides.
“It’s a heck of a first-round game having the (fifth) and the ninth-ranked teams in the state play each other the first round,” Shirley said. “We left all we had on the field. The boys played hard. It comes down to a game of inches. We made a couple mistakes, and they capitalized on them. We had chances. We just came up on the short end of the stick a little bit.”
The Trojans will hit the road for their second-round contest against top-seeded Oconee County on Tuesday night at 7:30 after the Warriors knocked off Grady in their first-round matchup.
Late Thursday evening, though, all New cared about was getting past a solid Johnson ball club.
“Well, we knew going in there was going to be no easy game in the playoffs,” New said. “As soon as the brackets came out, right from the very beginning, very first round, we knew we were going to be in a battle.”
Johnson’s season is now complete.