Fabian Abarca gave the home crowd at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium a moment of jubilation when he put the ball in the back of the net with less than two minutes remaining.
That feeling quickly disappeared with one wave of a referee’s flag, as did Abarca’s would-be goal.
An offsides penalty denied Abarca the game-tying goal he appeared to score against eighth-ranked Cross Keys with 1:47 left on the clock Saturday, and the fourth-ranked Knights saw their hopes of a second straight appearance in the state semifinal game extinguished with a 3-2 loss in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals in Oakwood. It was the second time Johnson had a goal waved off by an offsides penalty Saturday.
“We feel like there were two we put in the back of the net that should have counted, especially (the last one), that’s for sure,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said.
Johnson (17-3) was forced to attempt a frantic comeback in the closing minutes of the game after allowing the Indians to score three unanswered goals — all off free kicks.
Jaime Rosales got the rally started by blasting a free kick of his own past a diving goalkeeper into the bottom right corner of the net from 20 yards out with 3:35 remaining.
The game momentarily seemed headed for overtime less than two minutes later when Cross Keys’ goalkeeper was unable to get a hand on a looping kick that sailed over him and right in the path of Abarca, who tapped the ball into the open net before the referee signaled the offsides call.
Johnson’s first goal to get waved off developed into a pivotal sequence of its own.
Fernando Carilla appeared to give Johnson a 2-1 edge in the 60th minute on a headed goal, only to have it erased on an offsides call. Fourteen seconds later, Cross Keys’ Joseph Avellaneda took advantage of a lull in Johnson’s defense, latched onto a long free kick and poked a shot into the net for his second goal of the day and Cross Keys’ first lead.
“I’m sure it got in their heads a little bit, no doubt about that,” Shirley said of the disallowed goal.
“We just didn’t mark it well. Just bad communication on the back end. ... I don’t think we even moved on (that free kick).”
The Indians (14-3-1) added a crucial insurance goal in the 73rd minute off of another free kick — headed in this time by Victor Owiredu.
Shirley felt that his team’s mistakes in other parts of the field ultimately contributed to Cross Keys’ scoring opportunities.
“We turned the ball over too much on the far end of the field,” the coach said. “Our wingers and mids had to sprint back, and we just kind of gassed ourselves being a little careless with the ball in the final third. We could have done a better job of taking care of it up there and maybe done a better job of maintaining possession through the middle.”
The Knights appeared to be in good shape to build on an eight-game winning streak early on.
Johnson controlled possession early and almost got on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute when Abarca delivered a hard shot from 20 yards out that forced Cross Keys’ goalkeeper into a diving, one-handed save that deflected the ball outside the left post.
David Flores had a better result less than four minutes later. The freshman gained possession of a deflection after a teammate’s shot attempt was blocked, then sent a shot into the bottom left corner of the net from 25 yards out to give Johnson a 1-0 lead.
Cross Keys answered with just over eight minutes remaining before halftime.
Abarca was called for a foul near the right sideline, and Avellaneda headed in the ensuing free kick to tie the game.
“It’s a game of inches sometimes,” Shirley said. “You’re talking two careless fouls, two free kicks that we don’t allow, that’s two goals that they don’t score. The turnovers are part of the reason we gave up the two careless fouls on the free kicks.”
The Knights will bring back the bulk of their starting lineup in 2016 — they lose only three senior starters — including the junior Abarca, their leading scorer. Shirley believes the Knights already exceeded the expectations set by many people outside the program before the season began.
“There were a lot of people who wanted to say that this would be a rebuilding year,” Shirley said. “Coming in, these guys met every expectation that we set for them, and we couldn’t ask anything more of the guys.
“2016 starts tomorrow. We’re going to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get to work.”