The Johnson Knights were a picture of speed and precision even on a misty night in Oakwood.
They turned a showdown of top-10 Class AAAA teams and Hall County rivals into a decisive 4-0 home victory against North Hall at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
“It’s just a measure of how much hard work we’ve put in so far this season,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. “And the guys know we’ve just got to continue to get better.”
The Knights played in the AAAA state finals and the Trojans in the AAA semifinals a season ago, but third-ranked Johnson (7-1, 3-0 Region 8-AAAA) took control of this contest with a pair of goals in a three-minute span in the first half.
First, Fabian Abarca took a pass from Fernando Carrillo and used some fancy footwork to create enough room for a goal from the right side near the edge of the penalty box with 28:50 left in the opening half.
Then, Carrillo bounced a shot off the left post and in for a 2-0 edge with 25:51 remaining in the first half off an assist from Jaime Rosales. Carrillo had another scoring chance 21 seconds later that went wide.
“We were clicking,” Abarca said. “We practice together a lot. We try to get our chemistry up, try to learn our runs. By me having my head up, I can see where he’s doing his run and I’ll place him for the goal.”
North Hall coach Chris Henry said his team moved the ball well before Johnson’s initial goals, but struggled the rest of the first half, then repeated the pattern in the second half.
“Every player on the field for them is very technical, very fast,” Henry said.
Carrillo said Johnson succeeded by keeping the ball moving.
The Knights carried that 2-0 lead into the half before Rosales connected on a putback with 20:11 to go in the contest to make it 3-0.
Johnson’s Rigo Campa made a kick from near midfield that took a few bounces and found its way into the goal for a 4-0 lead with 4:22 left.
The Knights used their speed and technical skill to control possession for most of the match.
“We’re still not clicking on all cylinders where we need to be,” Shirley said. “We’re getting there, but we’ve still got a lot of work to put in.”
Shirley said his group’s success is a product of its practices.
“In training, they’re working hard. They’re having fun,” Shirley said. “They’re getting along with each other well. We challenge them to set goals, and they’re meeting those goals.”
Gerardo Molina had the shutout in goal for Johnson.
North Hall (3-3, 2-2) capped a week where it lost 1-0 at Buford on Tuesday in another region matchup.
Henry marveled at the pedigree of the players for both teams Friday in Oakwood.
“You come and you look at some of these players that were on the field tonight, and there’s a lot of talent in this area,” Henry said. “I’m glad it’s actually getting exposed. People are starting to realize this area can produce some talent.”
Johnson hosts Flowery Branch while North Hall welcomes White County in doubleheaders that begin with girls games at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
JOHNSON GIRLS 2, NORTH HALL 0: The Lady Knights’ first goal came on an Emely Avitia kick from near midfield that bounced high and over the Lady Trojans goalkeeper’s head with 8:07 remaining in the first half. Johnson coach Phil Higgins said Avitia played a crucial role filling in for Logan Dumanowsky, who was out of town, on defense.
Johnson junior goalkeeper Hannah Hodge helped keep North Hall at bay, particularly on an April Lotheridge shot she caught after it hit off the crossbar and into her arms with 24:20 left in the match.
“She’s done amazing things for us,” Higgins said. “So we know she’s always going to come up big in games.”
Then, a few minutes later, Hodge caught a pair of Trojans corner kicks in the air to cut off scoring opportunities and preserve the shutout.
Kelsey Dumanowsky added an insurance goal when she collected a long pass from Taylor Bell, took a few dribbles and found the back of the net from the left side with 16:51 to go.
It was a bounce-back effort for Johnson (2-4-1, 2-1) after Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to North Oconee, when a late penalty kick sent that match to overtime.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on still,” Higgins said. “But it’s good to get a region win.”
North Hall (2-3-1, 1-3) will look to build off its second-half effort against Johnson.
“In the second half I thought we really dominated play, except for a couple of possessions,” Trojans coach Gary Gaddy said. “Moving forward, we can look at that and realize the style of play we want to play is productive and it’s effective. We’ve just got to make sure we maintain that through the whole 80 minutes we play.”