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State championship game is familiar territory for Gainesville boys soccer team
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Gainesville's Jose Aguilera dribbles the ball downfield with Habersham's Ethan Contreras defending at City Park Stadium on Friday, March 22, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The Gainesville boys soccer program does not shy away from drama. 

The Red Elephants were forced to a win 3-2 in penalty kicks to secure their spot in the Class 6A championship game.

Gainesville boys soccer (18-2-1) has been there before — the manicured field, the fan-filled stands, the trophy glistening on the sidelines. Each fragment reintroduces depressing memories from the Class 6A title game in 2017. 

The result was disappointing, as Chattahoochee captured the championship via a 2-0 victory. Gainesville seniors still feel the sting of that loss, making them more anxious for Saturday’s championship match against Dalton (22-0).

“If we actually win, it will probably be one of the best moments of my life; we’ve always dreamed of this,” senior starter Armando Hernandez said. “(If we lose), it’s going to be bad. The second time losing as seniors would be devastating.”

Tides turned a few weeks back when the Red Elephants encountered Chattahoochee in the second round of the playoffs. A 2-1 win advanced them to the quarterfinals. 

Coach Elie Viviant entered the season convinced Gainesville could be the targeted team to beat. Injuries to core starters forced the coach to backtrack on the belief, but in hindsight, he was right.

The dream destination has not changed, just the path taken.

Their last loss (just one of two on the season) occurred on March 22 at the hands of Habersham Central. 

“We’re always competitive.” Viviant said. “We play to inches. In the win over Chattahoochee, we had a little bit of success, but I believe that Chattahoochee (surpassed) us the past three or four years as the third best team in the state. Cambridge (their semifinal opponent) was pretty solid, so I think it’s normal that every now and then we have chances to win it all.”

Gainesville’s path to the championship has not been as perfect as Dalton’s. But that does not intimidate Viviant.

“(They’re undefeated), which is always good,” he said. “We are the underdogs. It’s easy to motivate people when it’s like that. Everybody thinks that they are going to win it all, so we actually have nothing to lose. They have something to lose. They have to show something that we don’t, so it’ll be okay.”

Back in 2010, Viviant and the Red Elephants won their second state title, finishing 19-0. Similarities are inevitably being made, but the two separate teams have distinctive differences.

Where the 2010 team was more organized and tactical, this year’s team exceeds in skill, specifically with footwork. 

“It has changed, but we play hard,” Viviant said. “In 2010, we were undefeated but we were not supposed to be the team who would be undefeated and win it all. I think, again, this year we are not supposed to be the team to win it all, but we have a chance. We’ll try.”

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