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High school soccer: Nation's second-ranked Johnson boys need to finish strong to lock up ninth-straight region championship
Johnson's Isaiah Glez goes for a header against Chestatee on March 14, 2023 in Gainesville. Photo by Lee Heard For The Times

It’s wild that the Johnson boys have so much still on the line during the final week of the regular season. 

Ranked No. 1 in the state and second overall nationally, the Knights (14-0, 8-0 Region 8-4A) still have work left to do, in order to lock up their ninth-straight league championship and 10th region title since 2014. 

On Tuesday, Johnson will host a stiff test against North Oconee (5-2 in league play), then the big one Friday for all the marbles against No. 4 East Hall (11-2, 7-1) at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium. 

“You can only imagine the excitement the boys (on the team) are feeling right now,” Knights coach Frank Zamora said. “Thankfully, we have both games at home this week. We’ve played in big matches all season and this is the environment we’re trying to build for this program.”

As Zamora puts it, they’re putting first thing’s first. 

Against North Oconee, Johnson will encounter a program that relies on a direct approach and leans on its physicality, Zamora said. 

“They’re (North Oconee) really good at what they do,” Zamora said. 

However, that’s probably not going to be anything too big to handle for the defending 5A state-champion Knights, who’ve won their eight league games by a combined 39-1 margin. The only point allowed was in a 2-1 win against Cherokee Bluff on St. Patrick’s Day. 

Johnson has a veteran roster that can move the ball around to ample playmakers, anchored by senior Jorge Sandoval, who was the 2022 Times Boys Soccer Player of the Year. 

Since then, Johnson has picked up shutout wins against East Forsyth (3-4 in Region 8-4A) and Walnut Grove (1-4).

In 2023, Johnson has stood strong against one of its most challenging schedules, including wins against five ranked programs (Mountain View was in a scrimmage), while the biggest against the No. 4 Vikings is still on the docket. 

Looking back now, Johnson’s 2-1 win against Gainesville in ‘El Clasico’ is especially impressive. On Friday, the sixth-ranked Red Elephants knocked off Class 6A’s No. 1 Lanier 2-0 at City Park Stadium. 

Plus, if there’s any such thing as a home-field advantage, it’s certainly Johnson, where it will attract a packed house and full parking lot for big matches. 

In 2022, Johnson cruised through the first three rounds of the playoffs at home en route to a come-from-behind state-championship victory over St. Pius X at McEachern. 

Johnson hasn’t lost since a 4-3 regular-season contest near the end of 2022 regular season against Woodward Academy, only to win the rematch 6-5 in the state semifinals. 

Even with tremendous success, Johnson’s players, especially its seniors, are eager for one more region championship. 

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