East Hall’s boys soccer team put on a show in Tuesday’s second-round matchup and, with Leo Toledo playing the part of director, defeated Peach County 10-1 to advance to the Elite 8 for the fourth time in five years.
The top-ranked Vikings (19-1) will meet No. 2 Blessed Trinity in Friday’s quarterfinal round.
“In the game of soccer, in high school especially, if you can jump on someone pretty quickly, it changes the whole game quickly,” said East Hall coach Chris Horton.
Toledo brought those words to life in front of those in attendance at Valhalla.
The senior was marked by nearly the entire back line of the Trojans (10-8), as many as three defenders at times, but managed to open up scoring just over three minutes into the contest.
Sergio Turcios played a ball right through the middle of the defensive unit of Peach County to find Toledo, who knocked in a beauty of a left-footed shot in an instant.
Four minutes later, he did it again, this time on a pass from Oscar Gonzalez. Toledo collected the ball, avoided a defender and flicked the ball over the goalie’s head and into the net.
For his best trick yet, the striker received a pass over the top from Carlos Castrejon and put the Vikings up 3-0. It took 21 seconds for Toledo to get on the board for the fourth goal with an all-out blast over the keeper once again.
“Every day in practice, we do a lot of finishing drills and shooting,” Toledo said. “Our coach sets us up to do finishing just for these moments. It’s paying off. We’re scoring a lot.”
Up 4-0, Turcios created a bit of space for himself and rocketed a 25-yard missile into the top of the goal.
In effort to rein things back in, Trojans striker Hayden Frier put Peach County on the board with just over 10 minutes remaining. The ball was put dribbled into the right side of the 18-yard box by Micheal Aguilar, who passed across to the back post where Frier was waiting for the one-touch shot.
The Vikings would add another three goals as Castrejon ripped a shot from inside the box before Toledo took on two defenders to slot the ball into a gap barely bigger than the ball itself for his fifth goal of the night.
The final goal of the first half was a shot from Alex Arrellano who collected a ball knocked away from Toledo inside the box. Arrellano flipped the ball up and over a defender and past the keeper.
The Vikings outshot the Trojans 12-2 in the first half, with Peach County getting both shots on goal and East Hall putting nine on frame. East Hall outnumbered the Trojans 7-2 on corner count, though none of its goals came from set pieces.
In the second half, with the seven-goal deficit in place, the two teams played a 20-minute half instead of the full 40.
In that time, the Vikings would get off five shots — three on goal — and keep Peach County from attempting one.
Less than five minutes into the half East Hall scored its best team goal of the game. Oscar Gonzalez dribbled down the left side to the touch line, just outside the box, and passed in to Toledo, who had a man on his back. About four yards from goal, Toledo dropped the ball off for freshman Turcios at the top of the 18-yard box to smash it home.
“It’s a good morale boost,” Toledo said. “It helps him. He’s a freshman scoring goals. It just gets his confidence up for big games and he shows up for big games too.”
Turcios returned the favor for Toledo with 36 seconds remaining in play. Toledo received the pass at the top of the box for his sixth and final goal of the day, a blast into the top of the net.
“We knew we had to play almost a perfect game to beat these guys,” said Peach County coach Victor Hedgpeth. “We talked about it all week. We talked about playing our game mistake free and, if we made mistakes, reduce them. That’s not the way we played today, so the better team won today.”
NEXT UP: The Vikings now move on to play the second-ranked Titans in the quarterfinals. No matter who is in front of them, Toledo doesn’t see anyone taking the Vikings down with the way they’re rolling right now.
“Honestly, if I was watching us play, I don’t see a way to stop us,” he said. “If you stop me, you have to stop Surge (Turcios). You have to stop our left winger Oscar (Gonzalez). You have to stop Diego (Ramirez). We have a starter that’s not playing right now that’s fantastic. You may have to have extra players.”
Toledo said the locker room is full of confidence now and going forward and the players are not shying away from having a target on their backs as the No. 1 team in the state.
“I see us winning it all,” Toledo said. “This is the best chance we’ve ever had at winning state. We’ve got to take advantage of it and win out.”
WHO’S LEFT: The Elite 8 for Class AAA will truly be the best of the best in the state as all of the remaining contenders are ranked in the top 10, according to Eurosport.
Top-ranked East Hall will tackle second-ranked Blessed Trinity, while fourth-ranked Dawson County and seventh-ranked Oconee County will face off in Friday’s quarterfinal action. The Tigers from Dawsonville topped Rutland 6-2 in the second round. Oconee County knocked off third-ranked Westminster on penalty kicks.
Fifth-ranked Decatur will match up against eighth-ranked Sonoraville. Decatur defeated Jefferson 1-0 on Tuesday, while Sonoraville dispatched Spencer. Sixth-ranked Savannah Arts Academy will face ninth-ranked Calhoun after the teams defeated Jackson County and Jackson, respectively.