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PREVIEW: Johnson boys feel prepared to play in Class 5A championship soccer match
Johnson's Ramon Aguilar (7) looks to gain control of the ball against Woodland-Stockbridge in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs Tuesday in Oakwood. - photo by Bill Murphy

The fervor is clear when Angel Sagrero talks about playing for the soccer state championship later this week.  

A senior midfielder, Sagrero remembers that upsetting feeling when Johnson lost in the Class 5A finals last season.  

All season, everything the top-ranked Knights (20-1-1) did has been to avoid experiencing that crushing letdown ever again.  

Now, Johnson is just one win away from making that happen.  

On Thursday, the Knights will face No. 3 St. Pius X (12-3-4) for the Class 5A state title at McEachern High in Powder Springs. 

Match time is 7:30 p.m.  

“We’ve been working so hard all season, our chemistry has been great,” said Sagrero, who will play at Georgia Southern University, starting in the fall. “We want to go out with a bang.” 

That sentiment is shared by Sagrero’s younger teammates, including team captain Jorge Sandoval, a junior, and Ramon Aguilar, who had a hat trick in the 6-5 state semifinals win against Woodward Academy on April 30.  

A nationally-recognized soccer powerhouse, Johnson is looking for its first state championship since 2018. This is the Knights’ fifth state-title game appearance since 2014.  

Johnson’s third-year coach Frank Zamora has all the confidence in his group to finish the drill.  

“I trust the boys, believe in our boys,” Zamora said. 

He said redemption has been a powerful motivator for his squad, which has 9 of 11 starters back from that 2021 state finals team.  

“It’s confirmation that life is all about second chances,” Zamora said. “That’s the beauty of life, the beautiful game is about getting a rematch, chance to do things better.” 

Nobody wants to bring a state championship home to Johnson more than Sandoval, who has been its biggest scoring threat all season.  

Sandoval fortified his resolve after falling to the ground in tears after losing in his first state championship match.  

Johnson’s captain said they didn’t make excuses for the loss.  

They just got right back on the grind to get better.  

“We decided to come back better than ever,” Sandoval said. 

And that, they did.

In 2022, the Knights captured their eighth consecutive region championship.  

And in the first three rounds of the playoffs, Johnson put on dominating home showings against Chapel Hill, Woodland-Stockbridge and Veterans, in front of tremendous support of its fanbase at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.  

However, the most satisfying win to date came last week when the Knights avenged a regular-season loss to Woodward Academy in the state semifinals.  

Now, it’s one more to go.  

And Johnson’s players feel like they have the edge with the best fanbase, particularly the student body, which will travel near and far to watch its program play.  

Sagrero said winning the state championship will be the best way to show the school how much they appreciate the support all season.  

“This means a lot to our community,” Sagrero said. “They’ve been supporting us and encouraging us to be the best we can be all season. Winning the state championship would mean everything.” 

However, Zamora cautions that nothing comes easy at this point in the season.  

Every program playing for the state championship is extremely talented. 

“It comes down to 80 minutes and who wants it more,” Zamora said.  

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