TUNNEL HILL —
Since the start of the 2013 season, no team has come so close to defeating the juggernaut that is Dalton High School’s boys soccer team as Northwest Whitfield on Tuesday.
The streak lives, but Northwest Whitfield was one incredible save from doing what so many other teams couldn’t.
After playing to a scoreless draw through 80 minutes of regulation time, Dalton’s Isai Hernandez poked in the game-winning goal in the 90th minute for a 1-0 lead. The game ended within 20 seconds after play resumed — overtime is made up of two five-minute periods — and the Catamounts walked off the field winners for the 28th straight time with the non-region victory against their rivals at Bruin Stadium.
In the earlier girls match, Dalton withstood Northwest’s second-half rally to win 4-3 in the final minutes of regulation.
Hernandez’s goal was the winner for Dalton’s boys, but that play would have never happened if not for goalkeeper Samuel Fraire’s heroics.
Northwest (3-2-1) earned a direct kick from 25 yards away in the 71st minute. Before Dalton (6-0) could establish a wall of defenders hindering any shot on goal, David Franco set up and fired toward the far post. His shot started too wide but curled back in and was headed right for the top left corner of the net — perfect accuracy for his intentions.
“When the ref blew the whistle, I saw (Fraire) at the near post and went for it,” Franco said.
Starting from the near post, Fraire dashed across the goal line, dove and reached all the way to the top corner to punch the ball away from danger. It was the closest Dalton has ever been to trailing an opponent in an official match since losing to Carrollton in the 2012 Class 3A state tournament quarterfinals.
Franco’s shot wasn’t Northwest’s only chance late in the match. Miguel Villa’s direct kick in the 80th minute sailed about 6 inches above the bar — and immediately preceded the referee’s whistle to end regulation. Bryan Villa, Miguel’s younger brother, started overtime with a shot that hit the crossbar in the 81st minute.
Dalton earned a throw-in deep in Northwest territory in the final two minutes of regulation. Pepe Gardea lobbed the ball into the sea of attackers and defenders. After bouncing around in front of the Bruins’ goal, it finally popped up off Hernandez’s foot and into the top of the net, just under the crossbar.
The defending Class 4A champions won again, but Dalton coaches and players didn’t think highly of the effort.
“We need an attitude adjustment,” Cats coach Matt Cheaves said. “Northwest played a great game. They played with more heart, won more 50-50 balls. ... We need to grow from this and maybe act a little humble and learn something from this for down the road.”
Only one other win in Dalton’s streak — a 2-1 win in last year’s quarterfinals against Johnson-Gainesville — was by just a single goal. None of the wins needed extra time.
“This is far from our game,” Dalton center midfielder Eder Mora said. “It’s a reality check. We haven’t lost a game in a while. We need to realize at any point the streak could end and we also need to realize the streak doesn’t matter. We need to take it one game at a time.”
Northwest players hope coming so close is a confidence booster, because the teams play again March 27 in a Sub-region 7B-4A match. They also could play in the Region 7 tournament and even the state tournament.
In the battle for area supremacy, it was at least a huge improvement for the Bruins compared to a 4-1 loss to Southeast Whitfield two weeks ago.
“We went toe to toe with Dalton,” Northwest coach Ryan Scoggins said. “Especially a team with a bunch of juniors and only three seniors, that inexperience showed against Southeast. Tonight, you can tell we are making strides. If (Northwest goalkeeper Jose Marquez) doesn’t make some of the saves he makes, we never have the buzzer-beating goal at the end because we’re down a few after regulation.”
Marquez made 10 saves, including on Jesus Huitanda’s breakaway in the 20th minute and Justen Macias’ breakaway in the 46th minute. Dalton took 16 shots to Northwest’s 11.
• Dalton girls 4, Northwest 3: The Lady Cats held a 3-0 lead after Fabiola Torres’ second goal in the 54th minute, but the Lady Bruins changed the scoreboard quickly.
Northwest scored three times in four minutes to tie the game, with Vanessa Lara finding the net in the 59th minute and Andrea Garcia doing so in the 61st and 63rd minutes.
But Deanna Marquez’s goal in the 78th minute put Dalton (5-1-1) back on top and handed Northwest its first loss in eight matches to start this season.
“Some of it I think was fatigue and basic errors,” Dalton coach Tony Carlson said of Northwest’s comeback. “It’s inexcusable. I told them I never want to see it happen again. ... It’s an example of how quick a game can change and you don’t let your guard down.”
Dalton, which outshot Northwest 14-12, scored twice in the first half, the first on a corner kick header in the fourth minute from Julia Ortiz. Torres made it 2-0 in the 23rd minute after cleaning up a rebound off Northwest goalkeeper Gracie Holmes.
“In the first half, (my players) liked being drawn into the middle,” Northwest coach Melissa Torbett said. “They liked being clumped up. They didn’t shoot. ... At halftime, we reminded them of everything.”