West Hall lost more than a crucial region game Tuesday night in Oakwood – the Spartans also lost experienced central defender Oscar Bravo to a red card suspension.
Bravo was sent off in the 86th minute after being shown two yellow cards in the final 13 minutes of the second half as defending state champion West Hall suffered a 3-1 home loss to the visiting Tigers in Region 7-AAA action.
Bravo was first booked after a shoving match with Dawson County’s Alan Sanchez just seconds after Raleigh Payne scored a go-ahead goal for the Tigers with 14 minutes remaining. He was then shown the second yellow card as he attempted a sliding tackle on Sanchez during a breakaway down the right wing.
Depending on how the referees determine Bravo’s offenses, according to West Hall coach Tim Gale, the defender could face either a one or two-game suspension.
“He knows he had a clean play, but he was called for a foul on it,” said Gale. “That’s soccer.”
Gale said he requested the Georgia Soccer Officials Association (GSOA) assign three referees to officiate the region match, but the body only sent two.
But Dawson County (8-2-1, 2-0 Region 7-AAA) showed strength enough to win on its own merits: The fourth-ranked Tigers rebounded from Juan Hernandez’s opener in the 25th minute to score three unanswered goals and notch a 2-0 start to region play.
Sanchez did well to knock a header past West Hall goalkeeper Cesar Villa (five saves) to tie the game at 1-1 in the 35th minute before Payne broke the deadlock on a fortunate rebound.
Junior midfielder Patrick Moody was at the right spot at the right time to score Dawson’s final goal after Villa could only parry a shot by sophomore striker Dennis Pyetsukh.
Dawson County is now just a win behind second-ranked East Hall in the region standings. The Tigers and Vikings will meet in Gainesville on April 19. East Hall (11-1, 3-0) defeated Banks County 9-0 on Tuesday night.
“This is a great region we’ve got,” said Dawson County coach Jed Lacey. “I thought that with eight new starters, we’d be in a rebuilding year. But this makes us feel real confident.”
Gale was pleased by the way his fifth-ranked Spartans (4-3-1, 2-1) handled the possession in the first half and early in the second half, but Dawson County’s chances on goal began to pile up thick and fast after the break.
Pyetsukh was inches away on a header of his own off a 65th-minute corner that skipped past the near post before midfielder Cole Dennis hit a rocket that stung Villa’s palms.
Payne was credited with the goal when he deflected back a clearance from a West Hall defender back into the Spartans net to make it 2-1 with a quarter of an hour left to play.
“Once we got that second goal, I knew we had it,” said Lacey, who put two holding midfielders in place to try and shore up the back. “I don’t think there’s anyone who can score two goals on us.”
Sanchez and Bravo were both shown yellow cards for their part in a small skirmish near midfield following a fight for possession. And when Sanchez scurried up the wing, trying to switch the field after a West Hall corner, Bravo was booked on the ensuing slide tackle.
“We played well enough to win,” said Gale. “We played a lot of guys in this, and that’ll help us down the road in the playoffs. They did what we asked them to do, and it worked well. We try to look at the positive note.”
DAWSON COUNTY GIRLS 7, WEST HALL 0: The second-ranked Lady Tigers scored four first-half goals against the Lady Spartans to clinch a comfortable region victory.
Rachael Rajczak (19th minute, 72nd minute) and Lydia Blythe (17th minute, 29th minute) scored braces for visiting Dawson County (9-1-1, 2-0 Region 7-AAA), who is riding a five-game win streak dating back to March 4.
Tina Libao scored within the opening five minutes to give the Lady Tigers the lead, and Mackenzie Callas netted a goal in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Senior defender Jessica Chambers scored the game's final goal with six seconds left to play.
Goalkeeper Lucy Ibarra recorded 11 saves for West Hall (1-7, 0-3).
The Spartans will next travel to Homer to play Banks County 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Lady Tigers will next host Lumpkin County 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Dawson County coach Jed Lacey said the upcoming region matchup "will be for all the marbles" against the Lady Indians, who enjoyed an undefeated regular season last year before falling in the state semifinals to Blessed Trinity.
Missing five of its starters on the day, Dawson County fell 2-1 to Lumpkin County last year in Dahlonega.
Lacey said his Tigers are accustomed to facing difficult teams. Dawson County has already tackled (and beaten) Savannah Arts Academy and Islands High on the road.
"We've got to play at the level we know we are," said Lacey. "Whoever makes the least amount of mistakes will win it. We respect the heck out of (Lumpkin County), but we have to play the way we do to win."