OAKWOOD — Johnson boys soccer coach Brian Shirley said that putting a positive on Tuesday’s 4-0 win against Stephens County was in order, even though it may have been a less-than-peak performance by the Knights (10-1-2, 7-1 Region 8-AAA).
Part of the reason for the team being out of sync could have been the fact Johnson was coming off spring break and hadn’t taken to the pitch together for 11 days prior to the game against the Indians (2-10, 1-8) at Billy Ellis Memorial.
“Maybe tonight’s game was a blessing in disguise,” Shirley said. “The energy we played with wasn’t where we needed it to be tonight, but we still got the win.”
The Knights finished the game with 43 shots, but were matched shot for shot almost the entire night by an outstanding effort from Stephens County keeper Clayton Fulbright. Fulbright made eight saves in the first half, before Johnson made some minor adjustments to its alignment and created more favorable positioning for goals in the last half of the game.
“Honestly, we could have played a lot better tonight,” Knights senior forward Edgar Ochoa said. “It was very frustrating when we didn’t score early, but their goalie was doing a good job.”
Johnson finally got onto the board when Isrrael Azuarra planted a swift kick into the bottom corner of the net, just out of the reach of a diving Fulbright. After some early saves on Johnson kicks, Fulbright made a nice play six minutes after allowing a goal on a one-on-one against a Knights player, jumping and spiking a kick firmly into the ground with his right hand.
One thing that didn’t waver for Johnson all night was the defense. The Knights kept Stephens County from having any serious scoring opportunities the entire second half, while the game was still in question until the final 20 minutes.
“We kept the pressure up in the second half,” Shirley said.
The Knights’ second goal came from Manuel Aguilar in the 47th minute.
With 17 minutes left to play in the match, Seth Rebollar passed the ball to an open Luis Deltoro just feet in front of the net for an easy goal. Rebollar scored the final goal of the match for Johnson off of a missed free kick.
With the win, Johnson remains right in the thick of the subregion race with Gainesville (12-1, 9-0), leading into next Tuesday’s match between the two in Oakwood. The Knights have remained a contender, despite winning only one of their first five matches on the season.
“The Gainesville game is huge for us, but we have to focus on Franklin County first,” said Shirley, referring to Friday’s game against the Lions in Carnesville.
Stephens County visits Rabun County at 7 p.m. Thursday in Tiger.
JOHNSON GIRLS 8, STEPHENS COUNTY 0: The Lady Knights wasted little time jumping to the lead. Johnson scored three goals in a nine-minute span early in the first half to secure an easy win.
Emily Byers scored for Johnson on an assist from Bethany Johnson in the 11th minute, followed five minutes later by another goal from Johnson on a free kick. The Lady Knights (8-4-1, 6-2) added a score when Stephens County put in an own goal at the 20 minute mark.
The final goal of the first half was from Sophie Munoz on an assist from Johnson.
Johnson coach Phil Higgins was pleased with the win given the extended layoff and loss in its last game against Oconee County before spring break.
“We played unselfish and were creative with our shots,” Higgins said. “We played like a team.”
Kayln Dumanowsky scored a pair of goals for the Lady Knights in the second half, along with a score from Kelsey Dumanowsky in the final minutes.
Byers had a goal and an assist in the second half for Johnson, which visits Franklin County on Friday in Carnesville.