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Johnson boys emerge with 2-1 win against Starr's Mill in 5A quarterfinals thriller
Johnson soccer
Johnson players celebrate with fans after beating Starr's Mill in the 5A state quarterfinals on Wednesday in Oakwood. Photo by Paul Sasso MV Photo Concepts

Jorge Sandoval dreamed of this moment as a middle schooler. 

Now he can say he has contributed to the Johnson High School tradition.

The Knights recorded a 2-1 win over Starr’s Mill Wednesday night at Billy Eliis Stadium in front of a proud and boisterous crowd in the Class 5A state quarterfinals. 

Johnson advances to next Tuesday’s GHSA Final Four against the winner the Woodward/Cartersville winner.

“It feels great,” Sandoval said. “It was hard, but we did it.”

Johnson advances to the semifinals for the first time since the 2019 season. This also puts the Knights one step closer to playing for a state championship, which they last one in 2018.

Getting to this year’s semifinal was not going to easy for Johnson (15-7-1). The Knights were tied at 1-1 late in the second hall the last five minutes of action. Sandoval chased down a ball and held off the Starr’s Mill defender in the corner.

He controlled the ball before spinning toward the goal line. 

The defender was on his back Sandoval saw a small opening in the lower half of the goal and drilled game-winning goal just past the Starr’s Mill goalie. 

Sandoval raced toward the fan side of the Dungeon as he was mobbed by teammates during the celebration.

“I asked God to give me the strength to make something happen,” said Sandoval, who was upset about missing a scoring opportunity a minute earlier. “I went inside. I was able to take on the defender. I saw the little gap in between the goalie and I banged it in.”

Johnson boys coach Frank Zamora had a different expectation on the final goal. 

“As soon as I saw him turn, I was expecting a cross atop the box,” Zamora said of Sandoval’s goal. “But he saw that angle and put in the back of the net. I couldn’t be happier as a coach.”

Zamora expected this to be a close game.

“This is exactly what we expected,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a one-goal difference. Our boys never gave up. We prepared for this type of match. Luckily, it came out our way.”

The celebration of Wednesday night started before the game. Fans arrived early to the game on this Cinco de Mayo. There was a Taco Stand, drums, noisemakers and three-fourth of the stands full of Johnson supporters.

Those supporting the Knights watched intently and voiced their opinion loudly through a scoreless first-half. There was just an electrifying atmosphere throughout the night.

Christian Robles broke the tie game early in the second half with a goal in the 38th minute. He was jumped by teammates as the crowd exploded. But Starr’s Mill refused to fold. The game was tied by Connor Marte with 13:30 to play.

However, the crowd never let up in supporting the Knights. Robles believed the crowds support played a role in the teams success.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” said Robles, who is also making his first trip to the semifinals.

Johnson has a loyal following and support in the community but coming into this game there was a lot more promotion. Zamora put the word out to come support the Knights.

“We took advantage that it was Cinco de Mayo,” he said. “Thankfully the community responded. I think they played a huge role in that momentum in pushing our boys when they tied it up.

“They were loud the entire game.”


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