One of the most potent combinations in any sport is patience against the unknown, control of yourself and the game, and having multiple weapons to attack an opponent.
Southeast Whitfield’s boys soccer team had all three on display in a dominating performance Thursday night in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
Playing host to North Hall at Raider Stadium, Southeast outshot the Trojans 22-3 and five different players scored as the Raiders rolled to a 5-0 victory.
After seemingly gauging North Hall in the first 20 minutes, Southeast (15-0-2) took a 2-0 lead into halftime and then added back-to-back quick strikes in the first 10 minutes of the second half. After both teams endured a 30-minute delay because of nearby lightning, the Raiders added another goal for good measure as coach Jamison Griffin emptied his bench.
“We really wanted to see what they were going to do in the first 10 minutes of the game because we didn’t really know a lot about them and didn’t know what to expect,” Griffin said. “Then we wanted to take control. It is the first round and the last thing you want is to get flat.”
The Raiders, who finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the GHSA Class 3A rankings at eurosportscoreboard.com, advance to the second round and will host Region 1-3A No. 2 seed Cairo on Tuesday. The Syrupmakers — who made it past Peach County in the first round, taking a 3-2 home win on Thursday — ended Dalton’s run in the state quarterfinals last year with a 1-0 win in South Georgia. This time, Cairo will have to make the long trip to Whitfield County.
Region 7-3A champion Southeast saw its season end in the state semifinals last year, falling to eventual champion St. Pius X. Junior midfielder Jorge Hurtado says the Raiders have learned from last year and have one goal on their minds now — a state title.
“We tell each other that we have to be dedicated, but the state championship is all that we want,” he said. “You don’t want to be too confident, but we do feel like we can sort of dictate what is going on.”
That was certainly evident in the shots-on-goal totals, where the Raiders held a more than 7-to-1 advantage. Even when Southeast was only testing North Hall, the Trojans (10-5-1) couldn’t generate much of an offensive attack.
“Early on we had a couple of opportunities, but it is a tough game against Southeast,” said North Hall coach Kenny Childs, whose team was the No. 4 seed from Region 8.
“They are a really great team, and they have great chemistry and just seem to know where each other are.”
Hurtado said the chemistry of this year’s team is different. While Southeast had a dominant senior class last year, a lot of younger players have stepped in to assist seniors Edgar Cruz, Christian Lopez, Alejandro Garcia, Edgar Rodriguez and Edwin Guerrero.
“This team is different from the last two years — not necessarily better or worse, just different,” said Hurtado, who had two assists Thursday. “I think we have improved more since the beginning of the season than other teams, but we still have places where we need to get better.”
Changes were made at halftime, and it was evident as the Raiders firmly took control in the first 10 minutes before the lightning delay. After that, Griffin made sure plenty of people saw the field.
“At halftime, we had to adjust what we saw as some weaknesses,” he said. “Our outsides were not very crisp, and throw-ins seemed to be a little unintentional, and we had to get a little more focused with those. We were able to sub a little bit, and that is the good thing about having a young team. We have gotten a lot of different people a lot of playing time.”
It showed, especially on the offensive end of the field, where the Trojans were unable to match up with the speed and the variety of the Southeast forwards. The Raiders were also able to take advantage of a couple of risky moves by North Hall keeper Abraham Elias, who was forced to pay when he made mistakes.
Byron Miranda started the scoring for the Southeast with a goal in the 20th minute, taking a pass at the top of the penalty box, beating his defender to the left side of the field and putting the ball past Elias. Roughly 10 minutes later, Southeast drew Elias out from in front of the goal, and Lopez had an easy goal after getting past him and casually flipping the ball into the net.
Marcos Arrendondo scored the first goal of the second half, taking a ball that rebounded off of a Southeast shot. Eric Salaises did much the same less than two minutes later, cleaning up a deflection in front of the goal for a 4-0 lead before the lightning and brief rain started.
After play resumed, Rodriguez tacked on the final score of the game with 7:28 remaining.