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VIDEO: East Hall boys survive Dawson test, prevail in 2-1 thriller to take Region 7-AAA title
Leo Toledo scores twice to push top-ranked Vikings into No. 1 seed of Class AAA playoffs
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East Hall's Sergio Turcios (8) gets control of the ball Tuesday as East Hall hosts Dawson County for the Region 7-AAA title. - photo by Erin O. Smith

When it came down to picking the favorite of his two goals Tuesday night, Leo Toledo didn’t hesitate.

“Definitely the rocket,” he said, laughing. “You know what they say, 2-0 is the most dangerous lead, but we had to get it.”

The senior scored twice, including a thunderbolt of a game-winner from outside the box in the 65th minute, to lead the top-ranked Vikings (17-1, 6-0 Region 7-AAA) to a 2-1 win over Dawson County Tuesday night in Gainesville. The win hands East Hall its first region title in program history and a guaranteed No. 1 seed in the upcoming Class AAA playoffs.

East Hall will next host the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AAA April 28 in the first round of the state tournament.

Three months of dogged regular-season play came down to Tuesday’s matchup at Valhalla, pitting the No. 1 Vikings against the second-ranked Tigers from Dawsonville in a showdown that easily lived up to the hype.

Ever the silky playmaker, Toledo looked like his effervescent self as he forced four shots in the opening half, including the game’s opening goal in the 31st minute. And he doubled the East Hall delight with a booming strike from 18 yards out that left Dawson goalkeeper Ty Anglin in no-man’s land.

Dawson County’s Jake Alvarado made East Hall fans sweat when he cut the Vikings lead in half with a well-timed shot at the back post from a long throw-in with 15 minutes left to play, but Chris Horton’s men were able to waste the clock and prevent a comeback.

“I’m just happy to win this in regulation and not go to overtime!,” said Horton. Each of the last four times the two teams had met, the visiting side had won in a penalty kick shootout.

But Toledo, bolstered by a rock-solid defense that looked immovable at times, proved too much for the visiting Tigers (11-3-1, 5-1), who will begin the AAA playoffs as a No. 2 seed. 

“Dawson came hard at us,” said Horton. “There were times where we missed chances, put them wide, and they had open shots to make it tough on us. Two-0 in soccer makes you nervous, but sometimes we got a little too relaxed.”

The Vikings were nearly made to rue several missed chances in the second half when Dawson’s Jason Mays was wide open at the penalty spot with seven minutes left, only to see defender Eli Rivera slide in at the last second and guarantee that the game would not go to extra time.

Still, East Hall’s quality in attack was apparent for all to see. Toledo and teammate Alex Arrellano teamed up for a textbook 1-2 inside the box that skittered just inches away from Anglin’s post in the 60th minute.

“With this offense, we’re so dangerous, and if we play the way we’re playing, I don’t think anyone can beat us,” said Toledo, a Mercer University signee.

East Hall dominated on the stat sheet, outshooting Dawson County by a wide margin, but only took the lead when Toledo was able to run onto an errant back pass in the Tigers’ half, collecting the ball and finishing low past Anglin. The senior raced back to his team’s sideline, giving his coaching staff a bear hug.

And in the second half, it took his same vision to spot the Dawson keeper slightly off his line to blast a high shot just under the crossbar and cement a 2-0 advantage.

“He means so much to the team,” said Horton. “But so many of these opportunities come when our guys work hard to get him in those positions. They work to adjust to what the other team is giving us, and if you’re playing him straight, he’s going to get after you.”

Alvarado did well to stay alert as he poked in Dawson County’s consolation goal after a long throw-in went uncleared, but East Hall maintained enough possession and composure to close out the victory.

East Hall is now riding a nine-game win streak heading into the playoffs. Dawson County finishes the regular season with a non-region game at Stephens County at 7:30 p.m. Friday. West Hall is locked into the No. 3 seed, and will open the playoffs on the road.

The Vikings were a No. 3 seed when they went to the semifinals in 2013.

“This was our first goal,” said Horton, “but this was not our last goal. We’ve got a long way to go now.”

DAWSON COUNTY GIRLS 7, EAST HALL 0: The second-ranked Lady Tigers finished the regular season undefeated in region play, quickly dispatching the Lady Vikings Tuesday evening at East Hall Stadium.

Dawson County (13-1-1, 6-0 Region 7-AAA) had already earned its second region title in the last three years, but maintained its dominant form by scoring four first-half goals as coach Jed Lacey's team began to turn its attention to the upcoming Class AAA playoffs.

Brooke Cagle scored a brace (13th minute and 38th minute) in the first half, while Ruthie Pittman (35th), Emily DeMoss (36th), Rachael Rajczak (59th), Mackenzie Callas (71st) and Frankie Muldoon (76th) all registered goals apiece for Dawson County.

The Lady Tigers, who locked up a No. 1 seed, will host a first-round playoff game April 29. Dawson County fell to eventual state champions Westminster in last year's state quarterfinals.

East Hall (5-12-1, 2-4) has already set a program record with five wins in the regular season.

East Hall's regular season is over, while Dawson County will finish out the regular season with a non-region match at Stephens County 5:30 p.m. Friday.

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