By Devin Golden
GAINESVILLE — Southeast Whitfield High School’s boys soccer team needed at least one break to go its way against Johnson-Gainesville in Tuesday’s Class 4A state semifinals.
Even when the Raiders believed they had earned a break, they didn’t receive the credit.
“The goal we had was disallowed,” Southeast sweeper Isael Gutierrez said. “The ref can’t always see it.”
While Southeast didn’t get a fortunate bounce, Johnson made the most of its first real opportunity and held on for a 1-0 win at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.
Southeast, the No. 8 team in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A rankings, ended its season in the state semifinals for the third time in seven years, a span in which the Raiders have twice finished second in the state.
Second-ranked Johnson will play No. 1 Dalton at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Kennesaw State University for this year’s 4A title.
Southeast (14-6-2) had shots off the top of the crossbar and the bottom of the crossbar, a handball infraction by Johnson (21-1) just outside the goalie’s box and almost every other so-close outcome imaginable.
“It would’ve been all right if this happened during the regular season,” said Jonathan Sanchez, one of six Southeast seniors along with Jamie Arenas, Davis Gonzalez, Andrew Miranda, Remy Miranda and Diego Nuñez. “But it being so close to the championship hurts. They took a goal from us.”
In the 38th minute, a Southeast corner kick was headed toward Johnson’s net. It hit the bottom of the crossbar and bounced once before being cleared. Southeast players celebrated, thinking the ball had bounced across the line for a goal, but the linesman ruled it hit the line.
“I asked the official to make sure it didn’t cross,” Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring said. “He said it didn’t. Our guys said it was clearly in and came back out.”
Before that, Victor Garcia’s 11th-minute shot sailed beautifully over Johnson goalkeeper Ivan Salcido but hit the top of the crossbar. It bounced back into play and Artemio Lopez briefly had an open net, but his shot was deflected by a desperate Johnson defender.
In the 77th minute, a Johnson defender was called for a handball on the line of the goalie’s box. Had it been inside, Southeast would have been awarded a penalty kick — and a favorable chance of tying the game with just three minutes remaining in regulation. Instead, the Raiders had a cross sent back out for a deep throw-in, which was cleared to midfield. That was Southeast’s last real chance to tie.
“They bent and bent but didn’t break,” Kettenring said. “It’s just a heartbreaker.”
Johnson didn’t pressure Southeast until the 27th minute, when the Knights earned a free kick from some 25 yards away. Luis Deltoro’s cross to the back post found Barut Perez’s head for the match’s only score.
Johnson took 12 shots to Southeast’s 11.
“The first 25 minutes we were just off our game,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. “The last 15 before halftime were so-so. In the second half, we played more of our game, moved the ball and cracked off a fair amount of shots.”
Still, Southeast had 21 set plays — corner kicks, free kicks or deep throw-ins placing the ball in front the opponent’s net — and 21 times Johnson safely cleared the ball.
“We’re broken up,” Kettenring said. “You don’t make it this far without it hurting. You don’t make the semifinals without it cutting deep.”