By Devin Golden
Making the state playoffs is a first for Coahulla Creek High School’s boys soccer team.
North Murray is making it a habit.
The Mountaineers (14-3) will host Franklin County (4-5-1) at 7 tonight in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs, while the Colts (11-5-1) will travel for their first state-level experience, taking on Oconee County (11-5-2) at 6 tonight in another Class 3A matchup.
The Mountaineers won the Region 5-3A title this season after claiming the Region 7-2A crown in 2012. Franklin County’s Lions finished fourth in Region 8.
“According to their coach, they barely squeaked in,” North Murray coach Matt Chambers said. “They’ve just got enough talent to get into the state playoffs for the first time in five or six years.”
The Mountaineers are in just their fourth season of competition but are working on becoming a fixture in the soccer postseason. While competing in Class 2A the past two seasons, they advanced to the second round of the state playoffs in 2011 and made a run to the quarterfinals last year.
With a win, North Murray would host the winner of Blessed Trinity and East Hall in the second round. The Mountaineers are ranked sixth in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 3A poll. Blessed Trinity is ranked fourth.
Chambers didn’t shy away from talking about his team’s possible second-round foe.
“We’ve been making more of an emphasis to play the ball out wide,” he said. “If we make it through to the next round, we’ll have to play all areas of the field (against Blessed Trinity).”
Success in the first round of the state playoffs has been the rule for North Murray, which beat Callaway 3-1 in 2011 and Dawson County 2-1 last season. But Chambers isn’t expecting a relaxing evening against Franklin County.
“We’ll be in for a game,” he said. “It won’t be an easy game by any means. They got to state, so they’ll be decent. It won’t be a blowout. I want us to play our game and control the field and do a couple more things to get us ready.”
Coahulla Creek, meanwhile, doesn’t have the luxury of state tournament experience.
The Colts came one win short of making state when they were eliminated from the Region 7-2A tournament last season. After finishing third in Region 5-3A this year, Coahulla Creek is matched with the No. 2 seed from Region 8.
“They have a goalie with a huge leg who can kick it three-quarters of the field,” Colts coach Eric Parker said of Oconee County. “Their middle forward is probably their best player. They’re a very disciplined team. When you’re at this point, everyone is a good team.”
Parker said the main objective is to keep his players from overanalyzing the match. While the Colts don’t have playoff experience, their opponents didn’t make the tournament either of the past two seasons.
“We’re trying to keep it calm and make it like every other game we’ve played,” said Parker, who’s in his first year leading the Colts. “You know, they can’t get (too) tight for a playoff game. In the playoffs, the worst thing you can do is overthink everything. ... When we’re at our best, we can play with anybody. When were at our worst, we’re still pretty good.”
Oconee County isn’t ranked in Class 3A, but Region 8 champion North Oconee holds the No. 9 spot. In the one match between the two teams, North Oconee won 2-1.
“From what I can tell, the top two, North Oconee and Oconee, are pretty good,” Parker said. “There’s a dropoff between the top two and the next level.”