The GMC Prep boys soccer team had to climb the north Georgia mountains Tuesday in order to reach the game’s peak.
The Bulldogs beat the Towns County Indians 2-0 on the road to earn the right to compete for a second consecutive GHSA Class A-Public boys soccer state championship. It will be an all Region 7 final as GMC is matched up against ACE Charter out of Macon. The title game is slated for 8 p.m. Friday at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium, which is where the ‘Dogs won their state championship two years ago over Lake Oconee Academy.
A sequence early on in Tuesday’s semifinal very well may have decided the match. With the score tied 0-0, Towns was awarded a penalty kick and went to its leading scorer Peyton Barrett for the attempt. One day prior, the GMC boys had spent the last 15 minutes of practicing working on penalty kicks, and senior keeper Krish Patel put that training to good use as he dove to his left to make arguably his biggest save of the season. He would top it moments later. The ball deflected off of him as play went live. A Towns player tried to send the rebound in, but Patel stopped that as well with a kick save that kept the game scoreless.
The GMC boys got on the board with over 22 minutes to play in the first half. They had the ball down in the Indians’ box where it ping-pong’d around a bit before sophomore Levi Ward sent it into the net for the game’s first score. About 13 minutes later, a familiar connection gave the Bulldogs their final goal. Senior midfielder Colin McCabe drove into the Towns end and found classmate Ethan Tolentino who powered the ball across the line to make it 2-0. The goal was Tolentino’s 23rd of this season, making it a record-setter as he surpassed his total from two years ago.
The Bulldogs carried their 2-0 advantage into the half and held onto it for the rest of the match to punch their ticket to the title round. GMC coach Bobby Jaworski praised the play of defenders Jackson Miller and Avery Kirkland late in that second half as his team secured the victory.
With the amount of returning talent on this year’s roster, the ‘Dogs have made good on the expectation that they would at least make it back to the championship. But it didn’t always look like that would be the case, especially early on in the season when they lost to some much larger schools.
“When we had those three losses in a row we were questioning the direction we were heading,” Jaworski said. “But I really thought that we had a fantastic opportunity to get back to the finals with the way everything was expected to shake out in the state. We believed we could make it, it was just a matter of could we play the way we needed to the whole season.”
The team’s performance throughout the latter half of the campaign has landed it in a rematch with the ACE Charter Gryphons who took both regular season meetings against GMC 4-1 (March 19) and 4-3 (April 1). The Gryphons are 17-3-1 this year and have outscored playoff opponents 32-3 while GMC carries an 11-6 record and a 25-1 goal advantage over its postseason foes. ACE will be looking for its first soccer state championship while the Bulldogs will try for their second in a row.
“I feel like the pressure’s going to be on them,” said Jaworski. “The expectations on paper will be that they are going to win the game. We’re going into it with absolutely nothing to lose. We’ve got the star and we know what our program is. Both teams deserve to be there. They’re a hell of a squad that played great the entire season. It’s going to be a matter of whether we can minimize our mistakes and capitalize on theirs. That was the difference in those two games we had this season. We’ll go in with some fire and some hunger and hopefully play the cleanest game we can to come out with a victory.”
The two finalists are 2-2 against one another so far and will settle that score Friday night in Macon. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. and tickets are $12. Tickets will only be available online through GoFan here: gofan.co/app/school/GHSA.