CARROLLTON - With a state title on the line, two very evenly matched teams battled for almost the entire length of regulation on Saturday at West Georgia’s University Stadium.
But, unfortunately for the Calhoun Yellow Jackets, Westminster got the upper hand on a goal off a corner kick in the 73rd minute for the deciding goal, and the great effort in the first 72 minutes was all but erased in a 1-0 loss to end the Jackets’ season one step short of where they wanted.
Westminster’s Harrison Butker got his head on a ball in the box and directed it past the outstretched hands of Calhoun goalkeeper Raul Moreno for the only goal scored.
Calhoun coach Matt Rice said despite the tough loss, he couldn’t have asked for more from his guys today.
“I’m totally thrilled with our guys,” said Rice. “Was this the outcome I expected? No. But they played with class, they played with skill and they played like champions. We just let one slip away.
“Other than that, this team set the pace for the future to come. They’ve given it everything they’ve got, and that’s all I can ask.”
The Jackets (20-3) had several chances throughout the first half, including five corner kicks, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Calhoun controlled possession for a good portion of the first half.
The chances were more even in the second half with both teams getting the ball in the box on numerous occasions, but Butker’s header would be the only one to dent the scoreboard.
“That’s the way it goes,” said Rice. “This is a little more narrow field than we’re used to, and we ran out of bounds a little bit.
“But they gave everything they had. We just didn’t get it in the back the net.”
The trip to the Class AA State Championship game was the first ever for Calhoun, and it followed up a great season in which the Jackets rolled through much of the region schedule en route to a Region 7-AA title.
Rice said the team ultimately came up a little short of their goal to win it all, but after some time has passed for the hurt of the loss to wear off, the season will be remembered as the best in Calhoun boys program history.
“Our goal is always to be state champions, and this team has played better as a team than any team ever in the history of Calhoun soccer,” said Rice. “And it’s not just because they got to the state finals, but because of the way they did it. They bonded together, they sacrificed for each other and they gave it everything they had.
“This is an excellent group led by eight leaders in the senior class, and they’ve set the tone. Of course they’re upset with this result, but we lost to a good team that just won their third state championship in a row.”
In all, the Jackets had 17 shutouts in their 23 games this season. Seniors included David Rios, Jonah Gallman, Noe Martinez, Erwin Flores, Javier Medina, Brayan Forcado, Zane Rhodes and Roberto Alfaro.
“This is a group of seniors that had several playing, starting and taking penalty kicks when they were freshmen in the state playoffs playing on good teams,” said Rice. “They’ve gotten better every single year, and they’ve pulled everyone together and gotten us going in the right direction. It’s a special group.”
Despite the seniors that will be lost to graduation, the Jackets will return several key contributors, including goalkeeper Moreno, as well as defender Brandon Blaylock and midfielder Darwin Lom, among others.
Rice said this team has done a lot to put Calhoun among the elite soccer programs in Class AA and will look to build off that in 2014.
“I think we’ve shown that this year,” said Rice. “We’ve shown that we play a quality brand of soccer, and we just step on the field and play.
“It will be up to next year’s team and next year’s seniors to make sure we continue to go on that pace. I charge our next group of seniors to follow this year’s seniors’ example and to push harder to try to get over that next hump. And that’s winning a state title.”
For more photos, see Wednesday's Calhoun Times.