There won’t be any surprises or new tricks. The high school boys soccer teams at Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield know one another’s strengths and weaknesses, know why the previous matches ended up the way they did and know what each team needs to happen today for a happy ending.
Have the most intensity. Score first. And take away the other side’s offense.
The third meeting between the Bruins and Raiders this season is the rivalry’s biggest match ever. They face off in the Class 4A state semifinals at 7 tonight at Bruin Stadium in Tunnel Hill.
In this year’s Sub-region 7B-4A race and last month’s Region 7-4A tournament, the Bruins (16-5) and Raiders (12-4-1) played second and third fiddle, respectively, to Dalton (20-0), which hosts Spalding in the other semifinal at 6:30 tonight at Harmon Field. Tonight’s winners will meet in the championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Kennesaw State University.
But despite their seeds for state, the results from the first two matches between Northwest and Southeast indicate it was more of a tied-for-second ordeal.
In the first meeting on March 22, Northwest scored twice in the first half, survived the final 10 minutes playing a man down because of a red card and walked away with a 2-0 sub-region win on Southeast’s field.
“In the first game, we came out with a lot of intensity,” said Bruins coach Ryan Scoggins, whose team is ranked fifth in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A poll. “Right from the start, in our first game, we played hard.”
In the rematch on April 10, it was the opposite. The Raiders, ranked seventh in Class 4A, won 4-1 in Tunnel Hill after scoring the game’s first four goals and holding a shutout until the final six minutes.
Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring said his team was “wounded” by the loss to Northwest, and that the Raiders can still use the defeat as motivation. But he saw the win at Northwest as less about “revenge” and more about how his team “responded to adversity” after not being ready to play in the home loss.
“We wanted to get rid of some of that hurt,” he said.
Kettenring said there weren’t any tactical changes the second time around against the Bruins and added that soccer is different from sports such as football and basketball in that in-game coaching plays a minimal role.
“This is a player’s game, not an Xs and Os coaching game,” he said. “Ninety percent of the stuff on the field, the coaches don’t draw it up.
“I’m a cheerleader. ... The practicing and training was my job. But once the game goes, it’s theirs.”
In Southeast’s 6-1 win against Dutchtown in the quarterfinals this past Saturday, the Raiders scored four goals off deep throw-ins. Both Scoggins and Dalton coach Matt Cheaves have talked in the past about how good the Raiders are on set plays, which includes close throw-ins along with free kicks and corner kicks. Kettenring said “60 or 70 percent” of all goals scored in the sport are on set plays. Scoggins said it’s a bigger part of the game in narrow stadiums designed for football, like today’s venue.
“That’s going to be huge. With us, Southeast and Dalton, we all play in football stadiums that are narrow and you can throw it close,” Scoggins said. “When you have that throw-in on the sideline, if it’s anywhere around the 18-yard box, you have to realize it’s coming in front of the goal. ... Our keeper needs to be in constant communication with the back line.”
If Northwest’s strategy is swatting back all set play chances, then much of Southeast’s defensive game plan involves containing Giovanni Aguero and David Perez, Northwest’s starting strikers who have combined to score 39 of the team’s 81 goals this season and 77 goals in the past two years. The Raiders use four defenders — sometimes a straight line across and sometimes a sweeper-based triangle or diamond formation — and at minimum will need to shadow Aguero and Perez with a defender.
“You’ve got to be able to know where they are. That’s just in the framework of your tactics,” Kettenring said.
Of Southeast’s 17 games, the Raiders have only played four at home. They are used to playing — and winning, with a 10-2-1 road record — on their opponents’ fields. The tie was a 2-2 result against East Coweta, a Class 6A semifinalist with an otherwise perfect record. Southeast trailed 2-1 and scored toward the end in that match, similar to how it tied in last year’s win against Dalton at Harmon Field and evidence Kettenring’s squad can score in desperate moments.
“We can’t give up. We don’t give up,” he said. “We’ve got to continue the intensity. We have to match and exceed that intensity. We have to be intense. We have to be mentally and physically prepared to go. There’s not a surprise factor. In many games we can say, ‘Wow, we didn’t see that coming.’ This isn’t one of those games. ... We have to match and exceed intensity.”