PERRY, Ga. For the briefest moment, it appeared that the first goal allowed in the playoffs by the Columbus girls soccer team would come off the head of one of its own players.
Thirty-six minutes later, though, it was just something else to laugh about.
The Lady Blue Devils shut out Veterans High 1-0 in the Class AAAA semifinals on Tuesday at Perry High. The win puts Columbus (16-5) back in the state final for the second consecutive season.
Last year, it fell 2-1 to Allatoona in the championship match.
It was disappointing to lose last year, coach Rusty Oliver said after the game. At risk of sounding arrogant, but I knew it was our destiny to get there again. We played one of the toughest schedules, and I think its made us a better team.
Oliver praised his defense, which put together its fifth consecutive shutout. Only on a handful of occasions did the Lady Warhawks (15-4-1) put any pressure on keeper Anna Scogin, and she was up to the task each time.
In fact, the closest Veterans came to scoring came in the fourth minute, when defender Ivey Burbrink and Scogin suffered a miscommunication that resulted in a header back toward an open goal.
Burbrink attempted to head the ball back to Scogin, but Scogin came out for the ball. The header bounced slowly toward the empty net, but rolled just wide. Burbrink laughed it off after the game.
We had some miscommunication early on, and it was scary for a moment, but we figured out what we did wrong and corrected it, she said. Honestly, Im happy that happened, because it helped us recognize our mistake and communicate better early. We just had to make sure we kept calm.
That wasnt a problem going forward.
Our defenders as a unit played great all year, Oliver said. (Scogin) is an integral part, but its not her along. The whole unit has been great. I wish there were more defensive stats to indicate how good theyve been, but a shutout is a pretty good indicator.
If possible, Veterans came into the game on an even better run defensively than the Lady Blue Devils. It had notched 12 consecutive shutouts dating back to a 4-3 loss on March 5. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, that loss came to Columbus.
Sophomore Nikiay Comer scored the lone goal for Columbus, tapping in a short shot past the Veterans keeper in the 24th minute. It wasnt flashy, but it was all Columbus needed for the win.
Now, the Lady Blue Devils turn their attention to the state final, which will be played on Friday against Marist.
Marist (20-0-1) has been nearly perfect as a unit this season, winning all but one of its games, a tie against perennial power McIntosh. It has allowed just 12 goals all season.
The Lady Blue Devils know the enormous task that awaits them on Friday.
Obviously, Im nervous, Burbrink said. Its my senior year, so I want us to pull it out. At the same time, Im excited and the team is ready to play. Itll be the toughest game weve played by far, but as long as we stay together, we should be able to give ourselves a chance.
Oliver said his expectations are the same despite the team Columbus is up against.
Our execution wont change, he said. We wont do anything different for this team than we do for any other. Were going to rely on our defense, and we know it will give us a chance.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Tuesday at Perry High
Goals Columbus, Nikiaya Comer (24th minute). Records Columbus, 16-5; Veterans, 15-4-1. Next: Columbus vs. Marist on Friday in Class AAAA final.