DAWSONVILLE — After 90 exhausting minutes of two Class AAA heavyweights battling it out, West Hall landed the final punches.
Simon Cobian slammed home the game-winning goal in the second minute of overtime for the Spartans to secure a 4-2 win over No. 1 ranked Dawson County. The Tigers (6-2-2, 1-1 Region 7-AAA) came back from 1-0 and 2-1 down to force free soccer, but Cobian’s early strike, combined with a late insurance goal by Johann Corona, gave No. 3 West Hall (6-1-2, 4-0) its fourth straight win since March 10.
“This proves it doesn’t matter what rank you are,” said Cobian, who gave West Hall a 2-1 advantage early in the second half. “There’s always going to be underdogs. Glory be to God that that’s how it’s going to be.”
Dawson County’s inability to impose its will gave West Hall the opportunity to pull off a road upset. Richie Castruita and Cobian scored West Hall’s first two goals in the opening 10 minutes of each half before Sal Mendoza and Brandon Lund were forced to equalize in the 38th and 47th minute, respectively. Freshman midfielder Dennis Pyetsukh had a golden chance to seal a victory for the Tigers in regulation, but he skied his chance over the Spartan crossbar from six yards out in the 70th minute.
Dawson County would rue the missed chance when Ramsis Martinez served up a cross to Cobian with just 1:16 gone in overtime. Cobian wouldn’t be denied from eight yards away.
Lacey said his team would learn from the loss, and that he would make it his mission to adjust from mistakes.
“I don’t care about the rankings, that’s for parents to look at, but it’s almost a blessing,” Dawson County coach Jed Lacey said. “It just means we’ll be the hunter and not the hunted.”
It was a back-and-forth affair from the beginning, where Dawson County put together three quick shots in the opening five minutes of the first half. David Velasquez’s powerful free kick in the third minute stung the hands of West Hall goalkeeper Cesar Villa (four saves).
It took a fast-break, off the run of play, for West Hall to gain a foothold. Castruita had the presence of mind to tap in from close range after Cobian smacked the Tigers crossbar with a speculative shot from distance.
“We knew it was going to be a war,” said West Hall coach Tim Gale. “It was a battle from end to end. Earlier, they were getting possessions and working the ball, but fortunately, we’ve been finishing better recently.”
West Hall’s momentum seemed to fade when Mendoza earned a free kick, then buried a textbook header past Villa with less than two minutes before halftime. But it was Cobian who proved that the Spartans could respond. Four minutes into the second half, he took advantage of several Tigers struggling to clear a corner, and buried an effort from 10 yards past Dawson County goalkeeper Ty Anglin (five saves).
“I’ve got the team that can win state, but I’ve got to change things,” said Lacey. “Whether I’ve got to move people around or do whatever I need, I’m the coach and this won’t happen again.”
A moment of brilliance by Brandon Lund gave Dawson County a lifeline with 33 minutes left in the second half. Junior midfielder Jonathan Steele played Lund into the area before the senior forward split two West Hall defenders and knocked home an accurate volley past Villa for the game’s final tie at 2-2.
It seemed that Pyetsukh would steal the win when Zuniga fought his way to the byline with 10 minutes remaining. But the freshman could only watch as his right-footed effort sailed up and over the bar, despite Villa being off his line.
“This is the game we’ve been looking forward to all season,” said Martinez. “We knew it was going to go to overtime, possibly penalties, but I wasn’t that worried, I knew we could play the way we were and win it.”
The Spartans dominated in the first half of overtime, forcing two saves from Anglin in the opening minute. But when Cobian linked up with Martinez, Anglin was rooted to the spot. Cobian wheeled away in celebration, and was soon tackled by several gleeful West Hall teammates. Corona added his team’s fourth goal of the day when Anglin couldn’t keep hold of an errant pass in the Tigers’ box.
“To tell you the truth, it was crazy,” said Cobian. “We would come in the first half, score a goal right off the bat, come right off overtime, score right off the bat. So it’s just something crazy that wins it.”
Gale’s team will return to Spartan Field for the next two games against Fannin County (Thursday) and Chestatee (Apr. 2). Dawson County will have road trips against Banks County (Friday), Lumpkin County (March 31) and North Hall (Apr. 15).
DAWSON COUNTY GIRLS 8, WEST HALL 0: Senior forward Taylor Bennett scored a hat-trick for the Lady Tigers, who earned their fifth straight win with a pummeling of the Lady Spartans (3-5-1, 2-2 Region 7-AAA) on Tuesday at Tigers Stadium.
Junior midfielder Tina Libao added two goals for Dawson County (8-2-0, 2-0), while Lindsey Knotts, McKay Shively and Mackenzie Callas all scored to keep Dawson County undefeated since March 12.
Head coach Jed Lacey said his Lady Tigers team will meet their toughest threats to a region title on March 31 against Lumpkin County.
The Indians are currently undefeated at 9-0-1.
Bennett, a Brenau signee, tore through the middle of West Hall’s midfield all evening, and was able to earn an assist.
Shively had two assists, and scored the game's best goal after she flicked a pass up to her midriff before releasing a crisp half-volley from 18 yards out to beat West Hall goalkeeper Lucero Ibarra (four saves) at her near post.
Reachel Beaulieu had West Hall’s best chance of the game early in the first half when she tried to chip Dawson County goalkeeper Anela Melton from eight yards, but the effort went past Melton’s left-hand post.
Dawson County will embark on a three-game road trip, including visits to Banks County (March 27) and North Hall (Apr. 15). West Hall will return home to take on Fannin County on Thursday at 5 p.m. before finishing the regular season with a road stretch at Chestatee (Apr. 1), White County (Apr. 2) and East Hall (Apr. 17).