Photo: David McGregor
Collins Hill's Peter Kurowski, middle, gets upended by Walton defenders J.D. Nourachi (8) and Grant Cooksey in the Eagles' 3-1 victory in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
SUWANEE -- It was one of those nights that just seemed like if something was going to go wrong for the defending state champions, it would be this night.
The weather was way too raw for April, the moon was way too full, and even the scoreboard couldn't display the correct team names. But despite No. 8 Walton taking a 1-0 halftime lead, that scoreboard ended up showing what No. 2 Collins Hill was looking for, a 3-1 win in the first round of the state playoffs and a date with Harrison in the second round.
"We like to make games interesting," said first-year Collins Hill head coach Drew Prentice. "No point in just going up and winning the game."
Apparently that theory worked well in the first half.
The Eagles (16-2), all sporting Mohawk haircuts to open the playoffs, clearly dominated in every way except what was displayed on the broken scoreboard. Collins Hill had about nine good looks against goalie Alex McCauley and did everything but score. Malcolm Miller had a low shot blocked in the sixth minute and saw McCauley roll over a great ball just before the Michigan commit could reach it minutes later. Miller got to the next one after a perfect header by Dominic Bonilla, only to be turned away again.
Peter Kurowski tried with his header but couldn't beat McCauley with five minutes left in the half. The Raiders' keeper even had stop one of his players, nearly allowing an own goal in that first half.
While the Mohawks wearing white were just missing on their end, Walton (9-4-2) took its only true scoring opportunity and converted with 12:23 to play in the first half. Jordan Schrenk launched a huge throw-in from the left sideline right into the Eagles box. Corey Plasker was waiting and ripped a low liner that rippled the right corner of the net to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.
But when you've captured the prize before, a one-goal deficit and 40 more minutes is no reason to search for the button marked panic, said the Eagles' leader.
"We are old enough and disciplined enough to figure it out," said Prentice. "We've been there against several great teams. We knew it was going to come. It was just going to be a matter of time."
"We didn't have too much of a concern," said Kurowski. "Since we got a lot of chances in the first half, we figured we would get them in the second half and put them in. That's what we did."
Collins Hill started putting them in early in the second half. The equalizer from Zach Wallingford came quick. He recovered a loose ball from about 30 yards out, spun and drilled one with his left foot in the one place the Walton wall couldn't stop it. High and left. Tie game.
"To me, both teams were just waiting on us to score at some point," said the Eagles' coach. "(Walton's) keeper was making great saves. We could have scored four or five."
Collins Hill only needed two. That would come at the 12:53 mark. Kurowski, the UNC-Greensboro bound senior, set up a counterattack up the middle and hit senior Ricky Ortega right on the doorstep. He rolled one low and left past McCauley to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
"I don't know what happened. I was right in front of the goal and I placed it," said Ortega. "Peter gave me a great pass."
Kurowski added insurance on a penalty kick goal with 2:14 left to improve the final ledger.
Collins Hill is the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAAAA. It must take the quest to repeat to the road next. The Eagles are at Harrison on Tuesday after the Hoyas beat Parkview 5-1.
"Every game from here on out is going to be tough for us. First two rounds are killer," said Prentice. "We just need to play our style. We don't really over prepare for anybody. If we do what we do we win games."
One thing the Eagles do is defense. Freshman Jackson Taylor played in goal for Collins Hill. He made five saves and gave up just the one goal in the first half. The Eagles had shut out their last three opponents.