TUNNEL HILL —
It seems Northwest Whitfield High School’s boys soccer team has its most interesting matches when the stakes are at their highest.
With that in mind, the Bruins’ shootout victory against Grady in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament on Wednesday made perfect sense.
With region rivals Dalton and Southeast Whitfield having an easy time in their first-round matchups, Northwest made sure its victory affected the nerves a bit more. The Bruins beat the Grey Knights 4-1 on penalty kicks after the two teams were tied 1-1 after regulation and 10 minutes of overtime.
Northwest will travel on Wednes-day for a second-round matchup with Chestatee, which beat LaGrange 6-0 in the opening round.
Northwest (14-5), Region 7’s No. 2 seed, only needed to take four penalty kicks to secure a win, as Region 6 No. 3 seed Grady (11-3-3) missed two of its three. The Bruins’ kick takers were, in order, Cielo Nunez, Christian Perez, Miguel Villa and Jonathan Marquez. The latter hadn’t played at all during the game but volunteered to be the fourth in the five-man lineup when star forward David Perez opted out.
He ended up clinching the win.
“We looked around and (Marquez) said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Northwest coach Ryan Scoggins said. “He stepped up and made the biggest kick of the night.”
Grady’s Justin Williams went over the bar with his attempt, Archer Kinnane converted and Zachary Carter’s shot was blocked by Northwest goalkeeper Miguel Deanda.
It was all familiar for the Bruins, who beat Flowery Branch 1-0 in the first round of last year’s Class 4A state tournament and survived a penalty kick shootout with Houston County in the second round. Northwest lost 3-2 in the quarterfinals to Starr’s Mill.
“This is no shocker,” Scoggins said. “I did not expect to come out and it be a multiple-goal win. From our experience last year, we made it to the (quarterfinals), but it was a 1-0 win, a PK win and a 3-2 loss. So that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
This is the second time in as many weeks Grady has lost in penalty kicks. The Grey Knights lost to Marist in the Region 6 semifinals the same way.
After a scoreless first half, the second half provided early conversions. The Bruins scored first on their first corner kick of the game, with the goal coming in the 45th minute as Giovanni Aguero headed in Nunez’s corner. Four minutes later, the Grey Knights scored when Carlos Vablieso’s strike from around 20 yards out was too hard for Deanda to deflect away.
“There’s not much difference between a No. 2 seed and a No. 3 seed,” Grady coach Thomas Waller said. “These kids are a good quality team and know how to play their style at their place.”
Despite the Bruins having numerous chances near the end of regulation and in overtime — they had 11 shots on goal to their opponents’ three — the game went to penalty kicks.
“There were some chances in the first half that I’d like for us to put away,” Scoggins said. “In the first overtime, David Perez had a (good chance) and kicked it right to the keeper. That kind of stuff can come back to bite you. PKs is like playing Russian roulette. You just never know. We were fortunate this time.”