The 2023 Class 4A state championship that Johnson’s boys soccer team captured Thursday night was hardly the program’s first.
After all, the top-ranked Knights had won a state title just last season at Class 5A, and have now worn a state crown three of the last five contested seasons.
However, Johnson’s latest title, which it secured with a 4-2 victory over No. 2 Westminster at McEachern High School’s Walter H. Cantrell Stadium in Powder Springs, is one that will stand out for players, coaches and the school’s entire community more than any to date.
There are many reasons why, not the least of which is that it represents the first time the program has gone back-to-back season as state champs and that this year marks the first undefeated season (22-0) in program history, with the Knights’ current winning streak now at 28 straight games dating back to April 1 of last year.
However, the most important factor that made the 2023 title so special is that it signals the program’s arrival into high school soccer’s elite, not only in the state of Georgia, but even beyond.
“You know, I’ll put my boys up against anybody,” said a jubilant head coach Frank Zamora said. “They definitely have the passion, the love for the game. They’re willing to put the work in, and when you have a group that special, you can definitely play anybody in the state and compete.
“I think we’re building a dynasty, and this is just the next step we needed to be able to continue to build on the legacy that previous groups set the foundation (for). These boys are taking the torch … and they’re just taking that next step.”
Zamora may have been speaking in generalities, but the numbers demonstrate just how dominant the Johnson program has become not only since he took over as head coach in 2019, but also over the past decade.
Not only have the Knights won the three state titles in five contested seasons since 2018, they played for the title in the other two seasons, with the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign being the only time over that stretch that they have not been in the championship match.
In fact, dating back to the 2013 season, Johnson has advanced at least to the quarterfinals of its respective class state playoffs each year, with three titles, four runner-up finishes, two semifinal appearances and a quarterfinal appearance.
Those results are why the Knights have begun to open eyes far beyond Georgia’s borders.
They have been a regular among the United Soccer Coaches spring season rankings for several years, and even ascended to the No. 1 spot in 2020 after an 8-0 start before COVID ended that season prematurely.
Now after ascending to the top spot again early this week, Thursday’s victory and third state title makes it extremely likely that Johnson will be named national champions once the final United Soccer Coaches poll is released sometime early in June.
However, with about a month until then, Zamora, for one, is in no hurry.
“You know, we’re going to take it one day at a time,” Zamora said. “The final rankings come out in June. Right now, we’re state champions, and we’re going to enjoy it.”
That’s not to say that Zamora or his players don’t have an opinion as to what should happen one the final poll is released.
“I think this team is special,” said senior captain Jorge Sandoval, whose goal with one second left applied the finishing touch to Thursday’s win, as well as his high school career as his 82nd since he began playing varsity in 2020. “It’s something different. … It’s not your typical high school team. It’s a team that has top-quality players across the field, starting from the back and goalkeeper (fellow senior Kristian Hernandez) to our defense to the midfielders to the strikers. I think this team is … the best in the country high school-wise, for sure.”
He’ll get no argument from junior teammate Edgar Vazquez, who played a major role in Thursday’s win with two goals – one just 3:40 after the opening kickoff and another off a free kick with 14:17 left that proved to be the game winner – and an assist.
“No, sir. Not that I know of,” Vazquez said when asked if there was a better high school team in the country.