Thursday was one of the few stumbling blocks in what was an otherwise wonderful season for the East Hall boys soccer program.
The Vikings (15-5-1) won one of the most difficult regions in the state. Then, in the postseason, went on a four-game winning streak in Gainesville.
However, it was against unbeaten Southeast Whitfield (17-0-3) that the Vikings finally ran out of gas in the Class 4A title match at Duluth High.
The Raiders controlled the ball for the majority of the first half, despite only scoring once, then tacked on two rapid goals early in the second 40 as they rolled to a 4-0 victory.
The loss denied East Hall its first state championship in soccer, but didn’t take away its many high points during the 2021 season.
“I mean, we accomplished a lot to get here tonight and I’m so proud of all the goals we were able to meet,” East Hall coach Mark Wade said.
The biggest achievement, during the regular season for the Vikings, was coming out of a brutally-tough Region 8-4A with a championship and No. 1 seed to the postseason. The region was represented in the postseason by some deep squads, including Jefferson (a state semifinalist), Flowery Branch (state quarterfinalist) and Chestatee, which lost to Southeast Whitfield in the second round.
East Hall had been a defensive juggernaut, utilizing its exception speed and passing in the first four round of the playoffs, and outscoring the opposition by a combined 16-2 in the those wins against Hampton, Druid Hills, LaGrange and Islands.
However, Wade said it was a difficult turnaround playing on one day’s rest for a state title, after beating Islands 1-0 in the semifinals on Tuesday in Gainesville.
Southeast Whitfield took advantage of that with consistent ball control for the majority of the night. Plus, the Raiders were able to neutralize East Hall’s leading scorer, Averen Samuels, who scored four times in the last two matches but was kept off the board in the championship game.
The closest East Hall came to a score was when Samuels found the back of the net midway through the first half, but had it immediately waved off for being offsides.
Then in the 59th minute, Samuels had a nice second-effort shot that went off the goal post and then had the ball cleared out by Southeast Whitfield.
The Vikings were in the game the entire first half, thanks to a strong performance by goalkeeper Walter Bran who had double-digit saves.
In the first half, Southeast Whitfield’s only point came when Lupe Beltran chipped in a shot in the 12th minute. He would add another goal late in the second half when the outcome of the match was no longer in serious question.
Early in the second half, Southeast Whitfield found some separation.
In the 42nd minute, the Raiders started padding their lead with a goal from Nathan Villaneuva, then three minutes later Southeast Whitfield added their third goal from Fernando Castendada.
Four goals was more than Southeast Whitfield allowed in a match all season.
The Raiders had 12 shutouts (3 in the postseason) and only allowed more than one goal in a match once (a 3-3 tie against Dalton on April 16).
Still, one frustrating night doesn’t take away from a season filled with accomplishments for the Vikings.
After taking time to mourn the end of the season, Wade said his bunch will be able to look back fondly on what all it accomplished this spring.
“We’re going to really miss this group of seniors and everything they’ve done for this program,” he said.