By Devin Golden
TUNNEL HILL — Throughout regulation time in Wednesday’s Class 4A boys soccer state semifinal at Northwest Whitfield High School, Southeast Whitfield had set play after set play.
And over and over, the Bruins’ defense did its best impression of an impenetrable brick wall.
But in overtime, the Raiders broke through. Twice.
Southeast scored a pair of goals in overtime and held on for a 2-0 win at Bruin Stadium to advance to Friday’s state championship against intracounty rival Dalton, which won 7-0 against Spalding in the other semifinal. The game is set for 7:30 p.m., and the Georgia High School Association will announce today whether it will be played at Kennesaw State University or the University of West Georgia.
The third installment to the Southeast-Northwest season series — Northwest won 2-0 in the first game, while Southeast won 4-1 in the rematch — included a lot of set plays for the Raiders and a few prime chances for the Bruins. Twenty set plays (free kicks, deep throw-ins or corner kicks) ended unsuccessfully for Southeast (13-4-1) after 80 minutes of regulation time, while Northwest (16-6) didn’t have much of an offense beyond the first 10 minutes.
“It was like two prize fighters punching,” said Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring, whose Raiders are ranked seventh in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A poll. “This game was equal. ... It was just a matter of inches and centimeters.”
But in the final seconds of the first overtime period — two five-minute periods are played per GHSA rules — Southeast’s Alex Rosillo was fouled 25 yards out. On the ensuing free kick, Erik Salaises’ chip over Northwest’s defense landed on Alex Garcia’s outstretched foot and evaded goalkeeper Miguel Deanda.
That left five minutes for Northwest, the fifth-ranked team in Class 4A, to equalize. Bruins coach Ryan Scoggins said he switched from a two-striker formation and sent Miguel Villa, usually a sweeper, toward the front.
“Miguel Villa can do a great job up top,” Scoggins said.
In the first minute, Villa’s shot from the right side went directly into Southeast goalkeeper Abel Mendiola, and the Raiders’ defense cleared the deflection. That ended Northwest’s window to tie, though, because just a minute later Southeast’s set-play magic took all hope away from the home team.
After Rosillo was fouled in the corner, he crossed in on another free kick for the Raiders and set up Victor Garcia’s header. Deanda, who made three saves and often took charge on set plays in regulation, again couldn’t block it.
“It was more like holding on and surviving, but we got a break and they fouled our player,” Garcia said. “They did a quick play and I asked for it. I was at the right place.”
Southeast spent much of the night building its attack through the midfield, getting the ball to the side and either crossing or setting up a deep throw-in.
Northwest had the most offensive success with long balls over the defense to striker David Perez. Cielo Nunez’s pass to Perez in the fifth minute ended in an off-balance shot too high and wide. Bryan Villa’s pass to the same spot ended when Perez’s volley was off target.
“I couldn’t get a clean foot,” Perez said. “I tried at least getting a good chance, but it didn’t happen.”
In the 53rd minute, Giovanni Aguero laid off to Perez around 15 yards away but from a tough angle. Perez passed to Nunez, who couldn’t get a clear shot. It was the best of Northwest’s few chances. The Bruins finished with three shots on goal to the Raiders’ five.
“You can’t fault our kids,” Scoggins said. “We had good chances.”
For Northwest, this was the furthest the program has gone in the state tournament. Scoggins took over in 2007 and led the Bruins to their first tourney appearance. Last season, they earned their first tourney win and advanced to the quarterfinals before coming up short.
“To come this far and lose one before the championship, it sucks,” said Perez, a senior. “Why come this far if you won’t win it all?”
Southeast must face Dalton without midfielder and team captain Jorge Hurtado, who received a red card with two minutes remaining in overtime after shoving a Northwest player. The Catamounts, who are 21-0 and Class 4A’s top-ranked team, have beaten Kettenring’s squad three times this year.
“We’ll have to play around that and persevere,” said Kettenring, who is in his first season as the Raiders coach after previously serving as an assistant for the boys and leading the Lady Raiders’ program.
Southeast is in the state title game for the second time in program history. In 2008, the Raiders lost the Class 3A title match to Lakeside-DeKalb on penalty kicks.
Dalton’s 4-0 halftime score was announced during the Southeast-Northwest game.
“That’s not surprising,” Kettenring said of the Cats’ dominance. “We’re just going there Friday, loosen up and have some fun. We’re happy to not be playing at Harmon Field, because we haven’t had much success there this year.”