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BOYS SOCCER: Jackets headed to state finals after beating GAC in penalty-kick shootout

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80 minutes of regulation wasn’t enough. Neither was an extra 10 minutes of overtime.

After Calhoun and GAC cancelled each other out and were tied 0-0, it came down to a penalty-kick shootout to decide who would move on to the Class AA State Championship Game, and whose season would come to an end.

And the Jackets were the team that rose to the occasion as they were perfect on their first four kicks, while GAC was only able to put two in the back of the net thanks to two outstanding saves from Calhoun goalkeeper Raul Moreno.

As Moreno saved GAC’s fourth and final attempt, the Calhoun players and fans erupted into celebration as they punched their ticket to the title game for the first time in program history. (This was only the Jackets’ second trip ever to the Final Four.)

“I can’t say enough about the guys,” said Calhoun coach Matt Rice. “They stepped out on the field and worked it — 40 minutes, 40 minutes, then five and five more. And then to still have the composure to win it in penalty kicks.

“I’m at a loss right now. I’m so proud of them.”

Calhoun (20-2) now advances to play Westminster on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at West Georgia. Westminster defeated Lovett on penalty kicks on Wednesday night.

Moreno was clutch not only in the shootout with two saves, but also in regulation as he turned away GAC time after time, including a save on a shot deep in the box in the first half and also a diving save on a penalty kick after the Jackets were called for a handball in the box.

Moreno said once the final whistle blew after the two overtime periods had come to an end and it went to the shootout, he felt like it was Calhoun’s game to win.

“We have a lot of experience with penalty kicks so I knew we had it,” said Moreno. “I knew we were ready. I had confidence in our guys. We practiced PK’s all week. I told them if we hold them for 10 minutes (in overtime), I’ll do my best in PK’s. And we did it. We’re in the finals.”

Rice said he couldn’t have asked for more from his goalkeeper and his defense against a very talented GAC squad.

“He was good all day long,” said Rice. “He recorded his 17th shutout of the season. He didn’t have a lot of shots, but every time he was tested, he was right there.

“And we practice penalty kicks every single day of practice before we go home. From our shooters, to the guys back here supporting to our goalkeeper, it was a total team effort.”

Converting on penalty kicks were for Calhoun in order was Noe Martinez, Alex Hernandez, Darwin Lom and Brayan Forcado. GAC’s two makes came from Andy Irwin and Brendan Dickerson.

The Jackets appeared to have scored two goals in regulation, the first late in the first half, but it was called back because the Calhoun player was ruled offside. Then on a scramble in the box in the second half, Calhoun once again put one in the net but it was called back due to contact with the goalkeeper.

Rice said he knew his team was in for an extremely close and hard-fought game when he saw the matchups for the Final Four.

“The top four teams are in the semifinals, and this was the No. 1 teams from Region 6-AA and our region,” said Rice, who is in his second season as Calhoun head coach. “There’s always a stigma that a public school can’t make it to the state championship game (in soccer). We had a very good team last year, but we caught a very good team and got put out.

“This year we vowed to go further. They made it a goal to be in the state finals, and they proved to me that they deserve to be in the state finals. They made it happen, and I’m so thrilled.”

Martinez, one of the eight seniors on the team that were freshmen the last time Calhoun made it to the Final Four, said he knew he would get another shot at making it to the state championship game.

“We got eliminated in the Final Four that year, and it was very disappointing because I wanted to make it as a freshman,” said Martinez. “But I knew I had three more years to get all the way to this level. It happened our senior year, but I don’t regret it one bit.

“Our dedication and hard work has paid off. Every hour of practice we’ve had, every minute we’ve sacrificed to reach our goal of a state final. We’ll work tomorrow and Friday, and we will get that state title (on Saturday).”