POWDER SPRINGS — In an evenly-matched game, sometimes one bounce or a break one way or the other can make the difference. Unfortunately for Calhoun, that bounce didn’t go in their favor on Friday as their impressive season came to a heartbreaking end.
The Jackets battled Westminster evenly for 75 minutes as neither team could find the finishing touch to take the lead in the Class AAA State Championship Game at McEachern High. But with a little more than four minutes left in regulation, the Wildcats gained possession of a loose ball near the Calhoun box, and Daniel Desouza put it away into the back of the net for the eventual game-winning goal in the 76th minute to give Westminster a 1-0 victory and the state title.
For more photos from Friday's Class AAA State Championship Game between Calhoun and Westminster, see Wednesday's Calhoun Times.
Calhoun coach Matt Rice said it was a tough way to put a wrap on what has been an exciting last few months, but sometimes the result just doesn’t come out the way you want it to despite an incredibly gritty effort.
“I thought both teams gave it everything they had and battled with everything they could,” said Rice, who has now let his team to three state championship game appearances. “(Westminster) got a good bounce. One bounce a different way, and we might’ve won. A bounce another way, we go to a shootout. But I think whoever scored in this game really earned the victory. Two really good teams went at it, and unfortunately they came out with the one goal that made the difference.
“I can’t say enough about these seniors and everything they’ve done. The sacrifice they’ve made getting through this many games in the season. You don’t get through this many games without being injured, hurt or beat up, but it didn’t matter because they put the team, the community and everyone ahead of themselves. They gave everything they could to represent our school and our city the best that anyone could, and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Westminster (22-0-1) played aggressively from the opening kickoff and held possession for much of the first half. They manufactured several chances in the first 40 minutes, but the defense of Calhoun (15-6-1) was up for the task each time they were tested. Calhoun goalkeeper Eduardo Fajardo had a head-turning first half with some of the plays he made, including multiple impressive saves. The best came in the 35th minute as Westminster’s Alex Gracey broke through the Jackets’ defense and had a 1-on-1 opportunity, but Fajardo read the shot perfectly and made a kick save that Rice described as one of the best plays by a goalkeeper he’s seen.
Shortly into the second half, the Wildcats threatened once again as a shot was headed toward the corner of the goal beyond Fajardo but a Calhoun defender poked it out of the zone at the last second. Fajardo kept things even with another save in the 59th minute. The teams traded possession and opportunities for the next 16 minutes before Westminster’s game-changing goal in the 76th minute.
Rice said he was proud of the way his defense stood up to Westminster’s dynamic attack, especially Fajardo who kept the team in the game with an incredible effort in goal.
“One goal doesn’t define a game or effort and one goal doesn’t define a person,” said Rice of Fajardo’s performance. “He is hurting over the loss just like all our guys, but he was special tonight. That 1-on-1 save against one of the top goal scorers in the state was special. Not many goalkeepers in high school come close to making that play. (Eduardo) is just a sophomore too. If he continues to work, there is no limit to what he can do.”
The loss was the third in the state championship game in the last six seasons for the Jackets after dropping another 1-0 decision to Westminster in 2013 and losing 3-1 to West Hall in 2015. Calhoun has also been to the Elite Eight three other times since 2012. Rice said they will continue to work and improve with the goal of getting over that hump and earning their first state title at some point in the near future.
“That’s three times in the last six years that we’ve been right there,” said Rice. “We’ll evaluate what we can do to try to make it happen. We still had a great season and did a lot of great things. Our kids played with heart. We’ll keep the positives and keep working to add more skill.
“We’re going to get over that hump one of these days. We’re going to break through and win that state title. We just have to keep working and believing that we can do it.”
Calhoun will lose several seniors off this year’s state runner-up team, including championship-game starters Alex Aguilar, Julio Lopez, Andy Echeverria, Brian Delgado, Gerardo Fraire, Elmer Gutierrez, Daniel Isep and Johnathan Castillo. Rice said it’s going to be tough to replace this year’s seniors, but the program has a lot of young talent to build from.
“Next year is going to be a different year,” said Rice. “We were really senior heavy, and they were all great players. But we were able to get minutes for several of our young guys, and our JV worked hard and had a great season as well. It’s hard to think about next year after a tough loss like this, but the future looks bright for Calhoun soccer.”
With the victory, Westminster claimed their second straight state title and fifth in the last nine seasons.