The Brookstone boys soccer team is headed back to the final four for the first time since 2002, but it sure didn't come easy.
Fourth-ranked Brookstone fell behind in the first four minutes of its Class A state quarterfinal match against Savannah Christian Friday night at Brookstone, but the Cougars tied the match shortly after that and wore down a determined Raiders squad.
The Cougars posted a pair of second-half goals to win, 3-1, and advance to the state semifinals.
"When we got a goal down early, we didn't get rattled," said Brookstone coach Billy Byrd, whose team has won five of its last six matches. "We just went back to work. We've played a lot of good teams, so we know what it's like to be in a tough match. We have good depth, were able to substitute and rest our starters some, but it was our intensity that won out for us in the end."
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Brookstone (13-2-2) will host No. 1 Atlanta International (16-2-1) in the semifinals Tuesday with a kickoff time that hasn't been determined. Atlanta International advanced by beating Pace Academy, 2-1, in the quarterfinals Friday night.
Savannah Christian (8-6-1) put Brookstone on its heels early, as Chase Easter stole a bad pass by the Cougars and then promptly beat Brookstone keeper Ben Holt to put the Raiders up, 1-0, less than four minutes into the match.
However, the Cougars regained their composure quickly and tied the match just over two minutes later. In a scrum following a Brookstone corner kick, Harish Alappan took a shot that went off Savannah Christian goalie Logan Tovar's hands and went right to Stephen Poydasheff, who scored to tie the match at 1.
The teams settled down after that and the match became an intense, physical battle that saw both teams generate scoring chances, but neither team able to find the back of the net. The score was still tied 1-1 at halftime even though the Raiders outshot Brookstone, 9-3, in the opening 40 minutes.
Brookstone came out of halftime pressing forward offensively and generated as many shots in the first 11 minutes of the second half as it did in all of the first half. Just after Savannah Christian's Aaron Osborne sent a shot just past the left post, the Cougars took a 2-1 lead when Martin Ramos intercepted a backpass by the Raiders and slid his shot under Tovar to put Brookstone ahead.
Savannah Christian didn't go away, though, and the
Raiders' Kaivin Patrick fired a shot just over the crossbar in the 64th minute as they sought an equalizer. For the match, Savannah Christian outshot Brookstone, 15-10, and Holt had to make eight saves to earn the victory in goal for the Cougars.
Brookstone finally put the match away in the 74th minute, when Jimmy East found Poydasheff and he slotted a shot past Tovar into the back of the net to make it 3-1 and punch the Cougars' ticket to the state semifinals.
"When you get down a goal, you have to start pressing forward and that's what happened on the last goal," said Savannah Christian head coach Owen Gifford, whose team dressed just 14 players and all 14 saw action in the match.
"Our kids gave an awesome effort, but we just ran out of time."
The teams combined for 29 fouls, 16 of which were called on Brookstone. There were five cards handed out in the match, four of which went to the Cougars, but Byrd felt the match was well-played throughout.
"Because we play with a high intensity level, we expect to have a certain number of fouls called," said Byrd. "The referee called fouls on both teams, so I have no issues with that at all. I'm just glad we didn't have anybody get two yellow cards. We just had to be careful going after the ball and I think our guys played with a high level of intensity and control, especially in the second half."
Friday at Brookstone
Goals--Savannah Christian: Chase Easter, Brookstone: Stephen Poydasheff 2, Martin Ramos. Assists--Brookstone: Harish Alappan, Jimmy East. Goalies--Savannah Christian: Logan Tovar 6 saves, Brookstone: Ben Holt 8 saves. Records--Savannah Christian 8-6-1, Brookstone 13-2-2. Next: No. 1 Atlanta International at Brookstone (Class A State Playoffs Semifinals) Tuesday, Time TBD.