COLLEGE PARK — With overtime appearing more likely by the minute, West Hall’s boys soccer team broke through in a big way against top-ranked Woodward Academy.
The fourth-ranked Spartans used a pair of late goals, one by Jordan Moreno in the 66th minute and another by Omar Castillo in the 75th minute, to topple the War Eagles 3-1 on Tuesday in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
“We really scouted this team, top to bottom,” West Hall coach Tim Gale said of Woodward Academy, the Class AAA state runner-up in 2013.
“We knew they were a quality team. ... They just have a long history of success, and for us to reach that level where we want to be, we had to beat the man today. And we played the game to do that.”
The Spartans (12-5-2) advance to the state quarterfinals and will host Peach County on Friday in Oakwood. Woodward Academy’s season is complete.
The upcoming state quarterfinals appearance will be the Spartans’ first since 2009, the same season they lost to St. Pius X in the state championship game.
“It was a great feeling,” Castillo said. “We haven’t gotten that far; I haven’t gotten that far. And to just score, it felt good.
“This is indescribable. It is just a great feeling.”
West Hall seemed unfazed with its matchup against the No. 1 War Eagles (13-3-2). If anything, the Spartans seemed to embrace the challenge, considering they played well against ranked opponents like Johnson and Gainesville, both of whom are in higher classifications, during the regular season.
Those games against the Knights and Red Elephants better prepared the Spartans for postseason play according to Gale, who said playing some of Hall County’s premier programs is a challenge his team looks forward to each season.
“Those teams we look forward to because it makes our team better,” Gale said. “The Johnsons, the Gainesvilles, they are always going to have quality teams. We have to set our high water mark to those teams.
“When we come into the season, we play those like they are playoff games. You have to.”
Moreno’s goal in the 66th minute broke up what had been a tied game since the Spartans evened it at 1-1 with a goal from Ramsis Martinez in the 22nd minute.
After Moreno’s goal, West Hall avoided a few big scoring chances by Woodward Academy, only to see Castillo put a bow on the victory with his goal in the closing minutes.
Castillo outraced Woodward Academy's defenders down the right sideline, including the War Eagles’ goalkeeper, who came out to grab the ball. After passing the goalkeeper, Castillo made one simple move back to his left before putting the ball in the back of the net.
Woodward Academy opened the scoring in just the second minute of the game, when the War Eagles’ Chris Lea beat several West Hall defenders down the right side of the field before shooting the ball past West Hall goalkeeper Cesar Villa on the left side of the goal.
Gale had done his best to make sure the Spartans didn't lose focus if they fell behind.
“I wrote something on the board when we came in here and it was 'adversity,'” Gale said. “I told them, ‘How many times have we been there all season?’
"We’ve been there time and time all season. They grew up today.”
The Spartans responded with the equalizer in the 22nd minute.
Castillo received a pass down the left side of the field and delivered a cross to Martinez for a kick-in goal just feet in front of the right side of the goal. The goal was exactly what the Spartans needed, Castillo said.
“It just pumped up the whole team,” Castillo said. “I think we wanted it more after the goal.”