Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Sports

May 8, 2014

Panthers win first playoff game in school history, fall to Spalding in second round

GRIFFIN — Americus-Sumter’s boys’ soccer team made history on Saturday by winning their first playoff match in school history. Thanks to a strong defensive performance, the Panthers were able to take South Effingham High School into a shoot-out for the win, and with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line senior Carl Johnson made sure that he left a lasting legacy on the program by sending the game-winning shot into the back of the Mustangs net.

Americus-Sumter, the number two seed from Region 1-AAAA, earned the right to host the first round of the state playoffs against number three seed South Effingham. As the teams were warming up for the opening round contest, it was clear that the Panthers were pumped up and ready to play. Early in the game, Tye Skala turned Americus-Sumter’s adrenaline into momentum by scoring the game’s first goal after escaping behind the defense and sinking a precision shot past Mustang keeper Billy Heister to put his team up 1-0.

The rest of the first half saw a defensive struggle with each team collecting a few shots on goal that were denied by the opposing keeper. Jorge Carrion made several highlight-worth stops in the net for the Panthers in the opening half of play, and at the end of one half the home team held tight to their 1-0 lead.

The Mustangs started the second half on a roll, keeping the ball on the Panthers’ side of the field for most of the opening 10 minutes of the final regulation period. The Mustangs finally saw their persistence pay off as James Coon snuck past the Panther defense and received a pass, which he sent past Carrion to tie the match up 1-1.

Americus-Sumter found their rhythm on offense in the middle of the second half, forcing several shots on goal. Jonathon Arbaca had three near misses in a row, two of which came off of free kicks by his teammates. Heister continued to play a tremendous game in net for the Mustangs, and as the final minute approached a huge play by a Panther senior saved the day for Americus-Sumter.

Following a free kick by South Effingham, the ball bounced over Carrion’s head straight towards the Panthers goal. It was then a foot race between a Mustang forward and Johnson for Americus-Sumter. With nothing but net ahead of them, Johnson narrowly won the race and pulled off an acrobatic clear-out to preserve the tie at 1-1.

Johnson’s huge save sent the game into overtime, and following two scoreless five minute overtime periods the game advanced to a shoot-out to decide the victor. After dropping their regular season finale to Westover on a PK shoot-out, the Panthers were not going to let the results be the same in this decisive challenge.

As evenly as the two teams were matched, it was no surprise that the game came all the way down to the fifth and final shooter for Americus-Sumter. With each goalie making three tremendous saves and allowing just one goal, the shoot-out was tied 1-1 after four shooters were down. Carrion then rejected South Effingham’s fifth shot at the goal, putting the entire game on Johnson’s shoulders. As the last shooter, the senior showed why he has been such a huge part of the success of the Panther program over the past four years by sending an untouched shot into the net for what would equate to a walk-off home run in baseball. Johnson’s shot gave the Panthers a 2-1 victory, and a ticket to the second round of the playoffs.

Johnson said that as he lined up for the final shot, he was thinking about his teammates and all of the hard work that they put in to be in that position, with the game on the line.

“It’s been four years and we’ve always come real close in the final minutes and in our final game, but we never were able to put it away,” he said. “Just to know that my team was counting on me to make it and go to the second round of the state playoffs and make history, it’s just incredible.”

Johnson said that Americus-Sumter head coach Greg Fowler had the Panthers prepared to succeed in that situation.

“We were prepared for that. We have PK shoot-outs where the whole team goes through and take PKs on our keeper. We have a heck of a keeper, Jorge, that made four great stops for us, and we just did it!”

Fowler echoed the statement that Johnson made about Carrion when asked what the biggest key to the game was for the Panthers.

“I’m going to go right back to Jorge,” he said. “He played so awesome in goal that it was just unbelievable.”

Following the dramatic, history-making in on Saturday, the Panthers had a quick turn-around prior to their second game on Tuesday. Facing the number one seed from Region 4-AAAA, Americus-Sumter was forced to hit the road and travel to Griffin to take on Spalding County. Despite a late comeback attempt in the second half, Americus-Sumter came up just short, ending their playoff run and their 2014 season.

Spalding went up 1-0 in the first half, and early in the second half they scored another goal to take a 2-0 lead. According to Fowler, the Panthers didn’t quit though, and with improved passing and movement they were able to cut the deficit in half with an answering goal.

Arbaca scored the first goal of the game for the Panthers on an assist from Johnson, but Spalding was able to score again to make the score 3-1. Americus-Sumter did not give up, and a few minutes later Tylen Pepito sent a shot into the net after an assist from Skala. Although they got several shots on net and even hit the frame a few times, Americus-Sumter could not get another shot to find the net, and with Spalding County scoring a goal with three seconds to go the game ended in a 4-2 Panther loss.

“We played incredibly hard every minute of that game,” Fowler said. “Before the playoff game I told them to make sure to leave no regrets on that field, and I don't believe any of them did. I was extremely proud of them. We are an excellent team, and the first Americus-Sumter soccer team to win in the state playoffs.”

The Panthers finish the season with a 9-8-2 overall record. The 2014 team will go down in the history books as the first Americus-Sumter soccer team to win a state playoff game, and they also claimed the runner-up spot in Region 1-AAAA.

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