GHSA Boys Soccer
Northgate storms back to reach Sweet 16
by Joseph Myers, Special to The Newnan Times-Herald
COLUMBUS — Sometimes taking your lumps in the regular season toughens you up for the playoffs. All Northgate’s boys soccer team needed was the opportunity.
The Vikings got it on Wednesday.
A lineup that played scoreless soccer with No. 1 state-ranked McIntosh for 60 minutes during the 2013 season withstood the best that Region 1-AAAAA runner-up Hardaway had to offer for a full half before scoring three unanswered goals to hold off the Hawks 3-1 and reach the Class AAAAA Sweet 16.
Towering Hardaway goalkeeper David Scott stood tall in net to help give his team a 1-0 lead at halftime before the Vikings chipped away in a physical game that included six yellow cards — five by the Hawks — and an eventual red that cost the home team a man just before Northgate took a lead for good.
The match was physical throughout, with the teams combining for 41 fouls (25 on Hardaway).
“We never really felt panicked,” said Viking coach Bryan Hicks. “They were a physical team. We felt like if we kept playing our game, eventually it would go in. [Scott] came up huge, though.”
Entering the postseason on a five-game win streak, Northgate (10-6) now advances to next Wednesday’s second round trip to play No. 2 state-ranked Houston County (18-0). Houston County advanced by thumping Bradwell Institute, 6-1, Wednesday in Warner Robins.
Down 1-0, the Vikings manufactured a goal in the 62nd minute when Trent Harper broke free in the penalty area and knocked his own rebound home after having a point-blank shot stopped by Scott for one of his seven saves.
A young Vikings team continued to perserve on Wednesday after spending two months without star midfielder Levi Lewis to a broken leg. The senior rejoined the team just as Northgate was heading into this year’s Coweta Cup tournament before taking two weeks off. The chemistry, however, continued to thrive.
“Being as young as we are and not having Levi, to get this far has been really rewarding for the guys” Hicks said. “We played McIntosh scoreless for sixty minutes and I can’t see [Houston] being any better than they are, so we’ll see.”
The goal put the Hawks (14-3) on their heels and things got no better three minutes later when Gabe Julien, already in the books with a first-half yellow card, was whistled for a foul and given a second yellow card. That resulted in a red card for Julien and Hardaway had to play the rest of the match a man down.
“We started playing cautious in the second half and were thinking too much,” said Hardaway head coach Rick Iden. “The red card just finished us off. You saw our best game in the first half, but we just ran out of gas.”
Eight minutes after Harper got the Vikings on the scoreboard to tie things up, Lewis helped put his team ahead to stay with a heads-up play with Jamie Skalski on a free kick with Hardaway defender Tito Echevarria on the sidelines with a cramp.
The Northgate freshman hung close to Hardaway’s wall, but spun free allowing Lewis to lift the ball over the defenders for a perfectly-executed run-on header by Skalski.
“It wasn’t something that we drew up or anything. The two of them just made a great play,” Hicks said. “They were really up high and Levi put it right there for him.”
Echevarria had an assist on Hardaway’s only goal in the 14th minute on a pass to Tony Redmond, whose shot beat Northgate keeper Cooper Morrison into the lower left corner of the net, giving the Hawks a 1-0 advantage. Morrison made five saves in the victory.
“We had a couple of misfortunes just add together and it cost us,” said Iden of the go-ahead goal by the Vikings. “We had the red card happen and then one of our best defenders (Echevarria) was out with a cramp and they scored.”
With the Hawks desperately searching for an equalizer, Northgate was able to get several counterattacking opportunities and the Vikings netted an insurance goal in the 79th minute when Ryan McNeal scored off a give-and-go with Harper off the right side.
“We were just trying to keep it pinned down their end,” Hicks said. “And he made a nice run with it.”
(The Newnan Times-Herald Sports editor Chris Goltermann contributed to this story.)