It was a soccer match that could have gone either way and all it took for a winner to emerge was an incredible shot by an incredible player.
Irving Salgado scored with four minutes and 10 seconds left in the second overtime period to give Gainesville a 1-0 win over Southeast Whitfield on Tuesday in the Class AAA state semifinals.
The win sends Gainesville (18-0) to the Class AAA state championship game where it will play Woodward Academy on Friday in College Park.
Off a throw-in, Salgado dribbled with his back to the goal to create space and kicked a beautiful turnaround shot from 20 yards out that floated over the outstretched arms of goalie Cesar Maldonado just inside the right corner for the score.
“The last time I looked at it, I saw the ball over the frame,” said Salgado, who dribbled through Southeast defenders the entire game to create shots for himself and others. “I didn’t see it go in. As soon as I saw everybody screaming I just filled up with joy. ... The past couple minutes of the game I had to be creating opportunities. I just told my teammates to give me the ball, because I was going to get one in.”
The Raiders (17-5) had several opportunities to score and outshot Gainesville 12-8 in the match.
With 6:27 remaining in the first half, Raiders striker Ezequiel Nunez took control of a loose ball in front of the net with a one-on-one opportunity against Red Elephants goalie Macro Monreal, but his shot was deflected and went wide right.
With 21 minutes left in regulation, Raiders striker Bernabe Rangel also had a breakaway opportunity, but took one too many dribbles and had to shoot at a tough angle from the side of the goal and the ball was eventually cleared.
“I was going to go for the shot but it kind of went a little too far (on the last dribble),” Rangel said. “Things happen, oh well. But besides that, everyone left what they had on the field.”
The match was low-scoring but had the fans on their feet nearly the entire game. Both teams played with a possessive-based offense and worked at a fast pace, wasting no time on throw-ins and corner kicks.
It was also a clean game with few foul calls and only one card was issued — a yellow to Salgado with 3:34 remaining in the first overtime for a pushing foul.
But Salgado more than made up for his penalty in the second overtime.
“I think you have to have special players that can score special goals,” Gainesville assistant coach Elie Viviant said. “And I think that goal was a special one. (Salgado) is our captain and he deserved it.
“Southeast deserved just as much as us to win tonight. They had four or five chances, we had four or five chances. One of ours went in, so we won. But Southeast is a good team.”
Raiders coach Jamison Griffin said his players left everything on the field and have nothing to be ashamed of, despite not advancing to its second state championship game in three years.
“To be able to play through the hype with everyone comparing us to the 2008 team, it makes it tough on the kids,” he said. “And for them to be able to play through it shows the kind of team this is.
“They’re hurt right now because they love playing so much and they just want to play another game. I don’t think they’re upset because the score the way it was and they shouldn’t have any regrets. I just think they want to play another game.”