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Johnson, East Hall boys gearing up for challenging state quarterfinals soccer matches
Flowery Branch boys, North Hall girls going on the road in Round 3
Johnson's Eliam Chavez attempts to control a ball during a game against Northview on Wednesday, April 21 in Oakwood. - photo by Nathan Berg

When the playoff brackets came out last month, Johnson’s players naturally loooked to see where it would potentially see top-ranked Starr’s Mill. 

Every year, it seems, to be a battle deep in the postseason between these two boys soccer powerhouses. 

And 2021 will be much the same. 

This week, No. 4 Johnson welcomes in Starr’s Mill (18-0-1) on Wednesday for the state quarterfinal round at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium, a rematch of the 2018 and 2019 semifinal round matches played in Fayetteville. 

“It’s turned into a rivalry game, for us,” Johnson senior Eliam Chavez said. 

Except, this game is about a lot more than local bragging rights. 

The winner of the Round of 8 game will become a favorite to win the state championship in Class 5A. 

For Chavez, it’s especially important since he’s going to graduate later this month. 

And he wants to leave Johnson, just like when he was a freshman — a state champion. 

“I’m very excited right now,” Chavez said. “I know that if I lose, I don’t get to play again. I want to go out there and represent Johnson and all of our fans and community. “

The state quarterfinal round is, not surprisingly, thick with teams from Hall County.

In Class 4A, No. 4 East Hall (13-4) will host LaGrange at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, while No. 5 Flowery Branch (16-2-2) travels to Savannah to take on Islands. 

The Vikings know it will be a staunch test. LaGrange won its region title. 

“It’s going to take our absolute best effort to win,” East Hall coach Mark Wade said. 

Last week, the Falcons played a man down almost the entire second half and held on for a 1-0 win against Northwest Whitfield. 

“Well, coming off that win was pretty emotional for our team,” Flowery Branch coach Sean Garnett said. “In order to pull that out, you could feel the camaraderie come together, even more.”

With wins, these two rivals from Region 8-4A. East Hall and Flowery Branch. would get to play in the state semifinal round May 11, in Gainesville, if that scenario played out. 

Wade said his club is trying not to think about a rematch of the Region 8-4A championship in the fourth round of the state tournament. 

“We know Flowery Branch is playing great soccer right now,” Wade added. 

In Class 3A, the North Hall girls visit Pike County on Tuesday in Zebulon. 

Johnson coach Frank Zamora knows exactly what Starr’s Mill will bring to the field. 

“They’re tough, tall and physical,” Zamora said. 

“Starr’s Mill is also really organized and very skilled,” Chavez said. “We have to stick to our game plan and be prepared, mentally and physically.”

However, he is not surprised at this matchup at hand. 

That’s why Johnson’s coach planned out such a challenging schedule, as they prepared for the playoffs for the first time since 2019. 

Right away, Johnson took on Oconee County in an exhibition and won 2-1 on Jan. 30. 

The Knights wrapped up the region championship with a 1-0 decision against Clarke Central on March 30 in Athens, which will face McIntosh in the quarterfinals. 

“When you get to this point of the season, you’re going to see the best of the best,” Zamora said. “Starr’s Mill, Johnson, McIntosh and Clarke.”

To mark the deep playoff run, Johnson is going to have a taco truck on hand for fans to grab a bite to eat before the game. 

Chavez said they are trying to play up the fact that the match is on Cinco de mayo, hoping to get even more fans down to Oakwood.

The fans will be packed in, probably by the thousands, to see two of the best in the state face off. As announced last Friday, there’s no longer limits on stadium capacity for the Hall County Schools district, due to coronavirus restrictions. 

Now, they just need to hope that’s it good weather to be able to enjoy the evening on the pitch. 

State quarterfinals

Class 5A

Johnson vs. Starr’s Mill, 7 p.m. Wednesday

Class 4A

East Hall boys vs. LaGrange, 6 p.m. Wednesday

Flowery Branch boys at Islands, 7 p.m. Wednesday

Class 3A

North Hall girls at Pike County, 6 p.m. Tuesday

Regional events