Junior Gonzalez delivered when Johnson needed him most — but he’s missing a vital piece of equipment.
Gonzalez scored the game-winning penalty kick of the Knights’ 3-1 shootout win over Chestatee in Oakwood on Friday night, then ripped off his No. 17 shirt before getting mobbed by his team and a small group of fans.
The junior showed up at his team’s huddle soon after wearing a Johnson sweatshirt, saying that he couldn’t find his kit, as it had been allegedly taken by a fan in the ensuing dog pile.
“I felt confident (taking the kick),” said Gonzalez. “I knew my teammates needed me, and with one of our guys out today, I wanted to step up.”
Johnson (10-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAAA) scored three times in the penalty shootout, and Johnson goalkeeper Gerardo Molina pulled off a fingertip save to keep the Knights in the driver’s seat of the region title race.
Freshman Rigo Campa scored to put Johnson ahead 10 minutes into the second half before Jonathan Pedraza’s late equalizer sent the game into overtime.
Brian Shirley’s team has survived two games without leading scorer Fabian Abarca, who was suspended for a red card in a recent win against Madison County. The Knights will have him back to take on nonregion rival East Hall in Oakwood on Tuesday.
“It showed the character of our guys who came out,” said Shirley. “They took the moment and showed that we can have strong character and get the win without one of our guys out there.”
The Knights, ranked No. 3 in Class AAAA, came out cautious against visiting eighth-ranked Chestatee, which beat region rival Buford on penalty kicks 11 days ago. After testing goalkeeper Miguel Calderon (eight saves) with some long-distance attempts, it took a set piece in the second half to break down the War Eagles’ defense.
Junior Isaac Henry whipped in a free kick from the halfway line, which freshman Campa got a glancing header on to beat Calderon at his near post.
Chestatee (7-3, 4-2) was unable to put together a second-half shot on target until the final 10 minutes, but the War Eagles made it count. Senior midfielder Pedraza bought time in midfield to turn and square a hard, looping shot from 30 yards that caught Molina (three saves) off his line for Chestatee to equalize with minutes left in regulation.
Chestatee coach Michael Herrin said he was impressed by his team’s defense late in the contest. The War Eagles soaked up Johnson’s 12 second-half shots, including six on frame.
Chestatee has lost three straight games after opening the season with seven consecutive wins.
“I thought the guys really played calm,” Herrin said. “They work hard for what we do, and they believe in each other, and they’re willing to put their bodies out there.”
Neither team was able to put together a decent shot on goal in the two overtime periods, as the spectre of penalty kicks loomed in the chilly Oakwood night.
Molina pulled off a diving save to deny Chestatee senior Mauricio Morales early before Bryant Anaya, Marcos Vasquez and Gonzalez all found the net and sent Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium into pandemonium.
Shirley said he collided with a fan in the ensuing melee, causing the coach to roll his right ankle. He said he felt he was going to be fine, but “won’t be kicking a soccer ball anytime soon.”
With Buford (5-5-1, 5-2) dropping a home game against North Oconee, Johnson should control its own destiny toward the goal of a region title and a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs.
“We’re right back on top,” said Shirley. “But we’ve got two more (region) games, and we’ll take it one at a time.”
The Knights will finish their region schedule with trips to Monroe Area (Apr. 2) and White County (April 17), while the War Eagles will play at North Hall (March 31) and home against Monroe Area (April 17). Both have nonregion contests mixed in the remainder of their schedule.
CHESTATEE GIRLS 1, JOHNSON 1 (CHESTATEE WINS 3-1 ON PENALTY KICKS): The Lady War Eagles scored their first three penalties to earn a region win in a shootout against the Lady Knights (2-8-1, 2-4 Region 8-AAAA) after the two teams ended overtime tied 1-1 at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium in Oakwood.
Stephanie Barron scored on a penalty with just 72 seconds left in overtime to cancel out Taylor Buffington’s strike that put Chestatee in front with 3:56 left to play. But Nina Burgess, Merrie Barnett and Sadie Foote all scored for the Lady War Eagles (7-4, 4-2) in the shootout to earn their second straight win.
The win is likely to keep Chestatee in the hunt for a state playoff spot after dropping recent region games to Buford and North Oconee.
“This helps tremendously,” said Chestatee coach Mark Dunn. “It was a defensive kind of game, and we played that way. Taylor had herself a nice goal, and (goalkeeper Tyler Bennett) did well for us.”
Johnson’s Hannah Hester hit the crossbar with 23 minutes left in regulation, but the Knights weren’t able to put together any other decent scoring opportunities.
It seemed that Buffington had earned the win when she beat two Lady Knights and smacked a low shot past Johnson goalkeeper Hannah Hodge (two saves).
Referees awarded Johnson its penalty kick when a Chestatee defender handled the ball inside the 6-yard box, which Barron struck home past Chestatee’s Bennett (three saves). Evelin Avitia was the lone Lady Knight who scored in the shootout for Johnson, who is on a four-game losing streak dating back to March 17.
Chestatee will be on the road again this Tuesday to play North Hall at 5:30 p.m., while Johnson hosts East Hall at 5:30 p.m.