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VIDEO: East Hall boys fall in Class AAA soccer state championship with 3-2 loss to Decatur
Top-ranked Vikings (21-2) led at halftime, but were undone by Olson's 2nd-half double
East Hall's Maury Ibarra and Decatur's Owen Tumperi battle for a header during the Class AAA boys soccer state championship game at Five Star Stadium in Macon. - photo by Donn Rodenroth

MACON - The plan was for East Hall to attack from the outset of the second half, to pressure Decatur no matter the score.

Unfortunately for coach Chris Horton, plans changed.

Top-ranked East Hall (21-2) fell 3-2 to fifth-ranked Decatur Thursday afternoon as the Bulldogs secured their third state championship in school history.

Senior striker Devin Olson scored two late second-half goals within six minutes of each other to help Decatur (16-3-1) fight back from a 2-1 deficit at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium in Macon.

Horton said a muggy heat, combined with the unique feeling of playing on synthetic turf, took the wind out of East Hall’s sails heading back out onto the field following the halftime break. Temperatures reached as high as 88 degrees at the stadium by the end of the game.

“We had two guys feeling light-headed at halftime, so they stayed in for a while, hoping to bring them on later,” said Horton, who helped lead the Vikings to their first ever state title game berth. “Our left-back and our center midfielder, they both didn’t play in the second half. I think the heat was a factor. (Decatur plays) all of its games on turf, we only have a few games on it.”

Leo Toledo and Oscar Gonzalez scored in the first half as the Vikings (21-2) fought back from an early 1-0 deficit, but they had no answer for Olson’s brace, which came in the 63rd and 69th minutes. Decatur also holds title victories from 1977 and 2003.

Decatur coach David Harbin was a player on the 2003 title-winning team, and said after the game that he felt vindicated to return to coach his alma mater.

“Everyone here worked hard, bought in and committed to what we were telling them,” said Harbin. “(Olson) stepped up, he’s done that for us all season, scoring big goals in big games.”

The Bulldogs, who entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AAA, took the lead within the first five minutes when Nathan Tumperi’s shot from a corner was deflected into the net by an East Hall defender.

Oscar Gonzalez notched the equalizer four minutes later when he struck a powerful shot under the Decatur goalkeeper, courtesy of a deflection from Leo Toledo’s initial shot.

Toledo, a Mercer University signee who finished with 79 goals in his senior year, was double-teamed from the opening whistle, but was able to break free on one occasion to put East Hall in front in the 29th minute.

Latching onto a long cross by freshman teammate Sergio Turcios, Toledo shrugged off his defender before completing a composed, low shot into the Bulldogs’ net before racing off to celebrate the lead with a large contingent of East Hall fans in the stands.

Toledo said he was continually frustrated by Decatur’s physical marking. He added that some players suffered from dehydration from not eating and drinking enough prior to the game, which helped lead to the second-half frustrations.

“They’ll be back,” said Toledo, of his younger teammates. “They’ll win it.”

The Bulldogs continually found paydirt on the wings, earning eight corner kicks throughout the afternoon. Two pin-point crosses, one each from either side of the field, allowed Olson to capitalize.

Harbin said he told his players not to give up, despite being down by a goal at halftime. Instead, his Decatur team rededicated itself to attacking the flanks.

Olson slid home Decatur’s equalizer for 2-2, thanks to a cross from Tuck Rodi, then scored the game-winner with 11 minutes left to play when Lucas Ryter found him in open space in the penalty box.

Olson finished with a header to beat East Hall keeper Amir Solis, and wheeled away to celebrations from his Bulldogs teammates.

“They got a few good opportunities and they scored on them,” said Horton. “That’s soccer.”

East Hall, which entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed from Region 7-AAA, will graduate five seniors, including Toledo, Solis, Bryan Galvez, Diego Ramirez and Triquece Ware.

Horton said he believes next year’s squad will have just as many talented players as this year’s version.

“The beauty of this is, it’s gotten us to this point where they believe they can do this,” said Horton. “They believe they can challenge anyone, go up against anyone. We need to work on some things, get better, but I feel good about us going forward.”

NOTES: East Hall defeated Gordon Central (9-0), Peach County (10-1), Blessed Trinity (4-3) and Savannah Arts Academy (5-1) to reach Thursday’s final. Decatur defeated Islands (4-0), Jefferson (1-0), Sonoraville (4-2) and Oconee County (2-1) to reach the championship game.

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