Say what you like about the Columbus High boys soccer team, but one thing's for sure. When you play the Blue Devils, it's never over until it's over.
After winning a 10-round penalty-kick shootout against Druid Hills in the opening round of the Georgia High School Association Class AAA state playoffs, the Blue Devils rallied from a two-goal deficit -- including scoring in the 77th minute of regulation to force overtime and netting the winner in the final minute of the second overtime period -- to knock off Sandy Creek, 4-3, Tuesday night in Tyrone in the second round of the postseason.
The Blue Devils (16-2-1) are on the road again tonight, going to Gainesville to face the Red Elephants (17-1-1) in the state quarterfinals. Kickoff for the match at Bobby Gruhn Field, which is located at City Park in Gainesville, is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The winner of the No. 5 Columbus vs. No. 4 Gainesville match will take on either No. 1 Southeast Whitfield (16-0-1) or No. 3 St. Pius X (16-2-1) Tuesday in the Final Four.
Sandy Creek jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half Tuesday night, but Phong Vo got a goal back before halftime to trim the deficit to 2-1. Columbus coach Tom Perry said his team's early struggles against the Patriots were due to not sticking to the pre-match game plan.
"I think our boys did a good job of possessing the ball, but we could've done a better job of sticking to game plan in the first half," Perry said. "We addressed it at halftime and did a better job of attacking the areas we wanted to as a team instead of freelancing things.
"Sometimes when facing pressure, it's easy to take what's offered, but it causes problems sometimes. We attacked but were not productive in the first half. In the second half, we got things under control and did a better job of attacking them. It was a good, competitive game throughout."
The Blue Devils tied the match on a goal by Zach Saucier, but Sandy Creek pulled ahead, 3-2, on a score with about 5 minutes to go in regulation. However, Columbus came back and forced overtime when Cameron Hite found the back of the net in the 77th minute to tie the match at 3.
"I was pretty sure they had us, but this year, it's been interesting to watch them play because they won't quit," Perry said. "They're going to stay positive, and I've had teams that have fallen behind early or gotten down a couple of goals and have gotten their heads down.
"These guys got together, believed in themselves and kept at it."
After a scoreless first overtime period and first 4 minutes of the second overtime period, it appeared the match was headed to penalty kicks.
With 13 seconds to go in the second overtime, Luke Butterfield took a cornerkick for Columbus and Chris Steinwachs got his head on the ball and put it in the back of the net to win the match for the Blue Devils and send them on to the Elite Eight.
"In that last minute of the second overtime, I think our guys knew what penalty kicks meant," Perry said. "I think knowing that, they may have tried just a little bit harder to get that goal."
Gainesville is 16-0-1 in its past 17 matches, with its only loss this season coming to Class AAAAA No. 8 Mill Creek and the tie coming against Class AAAA member Habersham Central. The Red Elephants and Columbus have just one common opponent: No. 8 Carrollton. Gainesville beat the Trojans, 1-0, in Carrollton on March 9, while Carrollton beat the Blue Devils, 3-1, in Columbus on April 24.
"I was trying to get some scouting reports on them and I know Carrollton lost to them 1-0, so they're at least as good as Carrollton," Perry said. "We've got our work cut out for us."
"A big argument against us earlier in the season was that we haven't played a schedule tough enough to get us ready for the playoffs, but by the time April got here, we started playing tougher matches and learning a lot of lessons from those matches. I think those matches gave us what we need to face a team like Gainesville."
Perry said the Blue Devils have to do two things well to knock off the Red Elephants tonight.
"Defensively, we need to do a better job of covering their men," Perry said. "Against Sandy Creek, there were times on a give-and-go or a one-two combination where we didn't cover our men. So we need to work hard on that.
"Also, we need to work on finishing. We outshot Sandy Creek 3-to-1, but most of our shots were over the top or wide. We need to do a better job of making our chances count and keep our crosses away from their goalie. We do that a lot and it's just like a turnover."