The defending Class A-Public champion GMC Prep boys soccer team took aim at a big opponent Wednesday, and came out on the losing end.
The Bulldogs fell 6-3 to GHSA Class 6A opponent Sprayberry High School of Marietta, ending the GMC’s 15-game win streak dating back to the 2019 championship campaign. The Yellow Jackets from the Atlanta suburb were able to capitalize on 100% (3-of-3) of their penalty kick opportunities, and that was the difference on the scoreboard.
On the field, the differences in the teams were apparent in more ways than one. Sprayberry’s larger players more often won the 50-50 balls, and the Jackets (2-2 after the victory) frankly played with better chemistry than the much smaller school.
“They just had a really good quality team,” GMC Prep boys coach Bobby Jaworski said following the loss. “It wasn’t just a couple positions, it was all around the entire field. Every ball was played with a passion. You could see it in their aggressiveness and awareness of the field. They were just ahead of us as a team.”
It didn’t take long at all before visiting Sprayberry got very well acquainted with the attacking third of the field as the Jackets already had two corner kicks six minutes into the game. Neither netted a goal, but it was a sure sign of things to come.
The host Bulldogs actually got on the scoreboard first, though. They quickly turned some defense into offense as senior Ethan Tolentino worked his way to the game’s opening goal, putting his team up just over seven minutes into the action and sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Another game trend reared its head soon after the scoreboard read 1-0. Following a corner kick, Sprayberry’s Petar Stefanov was fouled inside the box and awarded a penalty kick. He made good on the opportunity to knot the game up 1-1 with 29 minutes still to go in the half.
The Yellow Jackets continued to make themselves comfortable down on GMC’s end of the field. While the Bulldog backline and keeper Krish Patel were facing constant pressure, Sprayberry’s players in those same positions were largely able to take it easy for the next 20 minutes of game time. The visitors got two more goals in that time span to take a 3-1 lead into the half. The opening period’s scoring was capped by Sprayberry senior striker Jackson Bates, who was very difficult to corral all night due to his speed and slippery ball-handling ability.
A Jacket goal fairly quick out of the break put GMC into an even bigger hole, but these Bulldogs showed they definitely have some fight. Nearly midway through the half, senior Jack Harris fed the ball into the box from right to left and Tolentino finished to bring his team back within two. That momentum kept rolling later as a GMC corner kick found Harris. His first header attempt was returned, but he quite literally kept his head in the game and sent the second shot into the net. The score sat at 4-3 Sprayberry with just under 18 minutes to play.
The home team’s comeback attempt ended there. Two more fouls called on GMC inside the box netted Sprayberry a couple more PK goals, bringing the regular season friendly to its final tally.
Jaworski went looking for a strong opponent for his own strong team to compete against and found one in the Marietta school. He’s hoping the experience does more help than harm to his squad moving forward.
“I think this is going to wake us up,” said Jaworski. “We needed to play against a really quality team to see where we were and figure out where our holes are. I think we found a lot of them.”
The Bulldogs were scheduled to face Benedictine Military, another high-quality program, on the road Friday in Savannah. Benedictine is a 4A school that just recently moved up in classification. They won back-to-back soccer state titles in 2A in 2017 and 2018. The GMC Prep boys next matchup is scheduled for Tuesday at West Laurens.