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Taylor makes clutch save for Collins Hill boys

KENNESAW -- Harrison coach Jonathan Gross perhaps best summed up Tuesday's second round Class AAAAA state playoff game between his No. 7 state-ranked Hoyas and No. 2 Collins Hill.

"We talked about from the very beginning that no lead was safe," Gross said. "And it worked the other way, too. We also knew if they had a lead or not, we were still in the game."

In fact, neither Harrison's early lead nor Collins Hill's late was safe.

However, Eagles goalkeeper Jackson Taylor kept his team in front by a clutch save of a penalty kick in the game's 73rd minute.

And Harrison's last-ditch effort to tie the game sailed harmlessly over the crossbar as the buzzer sounded, sending Collins Hill into the quarterfinals with a 2-1 victory at Bruce Cobleigh Stadium.

"That's a playoff match for you," Eagles coach Drew Prentice said after his team advanced to travel to Warner Robins to take on Houston County on Friday in the quarterfinals. "You're not going to come out here and not see people not getting physical and trying to win every 50-50 ball. Every ball was a battle."

Both teams had their moments in an entertaining, back-and-forth first half.

Harrison controlled the early part of the opening frame with three quality scoring chances in the first nine minutes.

And the Hoyas broke through on one of them in the seventh minute when Chris Birdsey sent a high arcing ball ahead of a sprinting Marco Rosas.

As he did on a similar ball a few minutes earlier, Taylor came off his line to try to play it before Rosas could get to it.

But the senior outraced two defenders and outmuscled Taylor to knock the ball into the penalty area, where he played it into the empty net to put Harrison in front 1-0 just 6:09 after the opening kickoff.

Collins Hill began to seize momentum midway through the half, and pulled even at 1-1 when Ricky Ortega headed home Josh Fancher's cross after a run down the right wing with 22:41 left until halftime.

The Eagles then kept up the pressure, peppering Harrison keeper Jonathan Klein with five more shots over the next eight minutes.

It looked like Collins Hill might cash in another quality scoring chance in the 34th minute when Klein attempted to punch away Brady O'Brien's free kick into the penalty area, only to have the ball bounce right to Nomis Cisik with an open net staring him in the face.

However, Harrison defender Connor Steele rushed into position and blocked the shot to keep the game tied, but only for another minute.

O'Brien sent another low liner in from the left wing that Klein made the initial save on.

But Malcolm Miller got to the rebound and hammered it home before Klein could pounce on it with 5:20 left in the half, giving Collins Hill its first lead of the game at 2-1 heading into intermission.

"That's just us," Prentice said of his team's perseverance after Steele's fine defensive play. "That's part of being a good player. Good players are in the right place in the right time."

Taylor was in the right place at the right time when a physical second half that saw numerous fouls, six yellow cards and a red card to Harrison senior Hoyas sharpshooter Marco Rosas got a golden opportunity to tie the game when he was fouled inside the penalty area with 7:40 remaining.

Rosas rifled a shot toward the near post, but Taylor dove to his right and knocked the ball wide, and Collins Hill cleared the ensuing corner kick to retain the lead.

"I've never played against (Rosas) before," Taylor said. "I just tried to read the player's body and look at his eyes, and luckily, I went the right way."

Harrison had one more chance to pull even as the last seconds ticked off the clock.

With six seconds left, Marco Rosas ran down a loose ball in the left corner, spun away from his defender and sent a centering pass to Daniel Mahan in the penalty area.

Mahan then got a good piece of a shot toward the net, but it carried just over the crossbar as the buzzer sounded, sealing the win for Collins Hill.

"The testament to our team was that we literally created a chance to score with (six) seconds left," Gross said of Harrison's last stand. "That tells me all I need to know. When a team is willing to sacrifice for each other and work as hard as we do, it's hard to be worried about the result."