Jorge Hurtado already knows what he’ll tell his teammates.
He’ll tell the Southeast Whitfield High School boys soccer team it can beat Dalton without him.
For the Raiders, Hurtado’s is one of the more unfortunate stories to unfold in this year’s Georgia High School Association Class 4A state tournament.
He’s a senior. He’s a captain.
But he won’t be on the field for tonight’s 7:30 state title match at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. And it’s all because of what happened in the closing minutes of Southeast’s 2-0 semifinals win on Wednesday at Northwest Whitfield.
“It was a mistake,” Hurtado said. “My mistake.”
With two minutes left in overtime and his team already holding a two-goal lead, the midfielder was fouled by Northwest’s Orlando Altimirano. Hurtado retaliated by picking up the ball and throwing it in the direction of Altimirano.
The center referee issued Altimirano a yellow card as Hurtado clapped his hands and smiled at his bench. When he turned back to the field, the referee was standing in front of Hurtado holding a red card.
According to the GHSA’s Constitution and By-Laws, any player who receives a red card is suspended for the following match in addition to not being able to finish the match in which he was carded. In other words, Hurtado will miss the state championship game.
“We cried after that game,” said Raiders coach Kevin Kettenring, who said there is no appeals process for such suspensions. “It was horrible, just horrible. We felt bad the whole ride home. I hurt for him. We all do. That’s not what Jorge is. That’s not what he’s about. It’s just one of those odd things in this game that’s just unfortunate. I thought it was a lot harsh based on what actually happened as opposed to what didn’t happen.”
Even though Hurtado won’t be in uniform tonight, he practiced with the team on Thursday. And Hurtado already had his pregame speech ready to go. His message to the team is simple: You don’t need me.
“They can do it by themselves,” he said. “I’m not a factor. (Dalton) is good, but if we want it more than they do, I believe we can beat them even without me.
“You just have to play physical. That’s for sure. Dalton is a physical team. You have to match up with that.”
Hurtado has been a member of the varsity program since his freshman year and played for three seasons under former coach Jamison Griffin, who resigned after last season to take an administrative position at Tennessee’s East Hamilton High School.
“I brought him, Alex Rosillo and Jesus Leon up (for practice) when they were eighth-graders,” said Griffin, who was at Wednesday’s game. “For four years, he had a role on the field and was very good at that role. His last game will be in a different role, but still part of the team.”
Kettenring said Hurtado, whom he labeled “the speaking captain,” can ride on the bus with the team but cannot sit on the sidelines. He’ll become Southeast’s biggest cheerleader. The team’s other captains are senior midfielder/striker Rosillo and sophomore defender Isael Gutierrez.
“When he got the red card, I got mad and went toward him,” Rosillo said. “I apologized because I cussed at him. ... Everyone makes dumb decisions, not just him.”
In Southeast’s three matches this season with Dalton (21-0), the Catamounts have swept with a combined 8-1 score. The lone goal by Southeast (13-4-1), in a 3-1 loss in March, came on a header from Hurtado.
“He’s the real captain of this team,” Gutierrez said. “He’s a vocal player and does everything on the field and off the field.”
Hurtado was an honorable mention to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Soccer team last season, during which he had 10 goals and eight assists. He helped Southeast beat Dalton twice, win Region 7-3A for a second consecutive season and reach the Class 3A quarterfinals.
But bringing the first state championship to Southeast will be out of Hurtado’s control.
Would he take back his choice to pick up and throw that ball?
“I want to say ‘Yes,’ but I want to say ‘No,’” he said. “No, because it happened for a reason, I guess. And yes, because I want to play in the championship match.
“I guess it was a call. There’s nothing you can do about it now.”