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PREP SOCCER: Late burst from Coosa helps Eagles capture region championship

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The goals were going to come. Coosa coach Ruben Maldonado knew it.

Even after his team fell behind early in the first half, even after 60 minutes of close calls, he knew his team would break through in its most important match of the season. And when that first goal did come, the second wasn’t too far behind.

After trailing Pepperell for most of Thursday afternoon, the Eagles tallied three goals in the final 20 minutes to defeat the Dragons 3-1 at Lindale. The victory gave Coosa the Region 7-AA title and the No. 1 seed entering the Class AA state playoffs next week.

“I said it from the beginning, that we were going to go out there and beat them,” Maldonado said. “Give Pepperell a lot of credit for how they fought. But we knew when we were down 1-0 we just needed to score one and the next one would come easy.”

Coosa (16-2, 13-1 7-AA) earned goals from Chandler Hubbard, Nohel Paz and Jose Reyes, with Aaron Camacho notching an assist. Pepperell’s Slamon Ghani scored the team’s only goal, while the Dragons’ defensive back line negated every Coosa attack for the first 60 minutes.

Pepperell (11-5-1, 11-3) came out aggressive to begin the match, eventually resulting in a goal for Ghani in the 11th minute. But Pepperell began to back off in its attack and Coosa started winning more balls in the center field, thus controlling the possession.

“When we came out in the second half, we decided to set back and protect the goal,” Pepperell coach Brian Crick said. “But I kept telling them we had to push up. What was happening was they kept getting those balls in the circle and they kept creeping in on us.”

The Dragons got a chance in the 58th minute when striker Ramiro Alanis broke past the defense and netted what looked like a second Pepperell goal but he was called offside.

Coosa’s consistent pressure paid off on corner kicks. One from the left side found Hubbard in the middle of the goal to notch the game 1-1 with 16 minutes left to play.

Eight minutes later, a corner from the right side reached the far post, where Paz was waiting to head it in. Maldonado credited the two scores to the consistent work his team does in practice during the week.

“Those were two corner kicks that the coaches had put together for a while,” Maldonado said. “I’ll take a little credit for the second one, but it came down to the guys executing the play.”

Pepperell had one more chance minutes after Paz’s goal, but a corner kick for the Dragons quickly went awry. Reyes led a corner the other way, eventually drawing a foul inside the box. The penalty kick swept to the right of Pepperell keeper Rigo Mandujano and became the game’s final goal.

Both teams will advance to the Class AA state playoffs and host first-round contests next week. After making it through Region 7-AA with only one loss, Maldonado knows his team can make a run.

“The kids have been pretty focused to begin with and that only increases,” Maldonado said. “They never gave up today. They always kept fighting. Everybody kept their heads up all game long, and that is most important.”