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Wesleyan boys on new road

Wesleyan's Austin Delk, right, leaps while going after the ball against Hebron's Carter Hardin during their second-round playoff game.

Wesleyan's Austin Delk, right, leaps while going after the ball against Hebron's Carter Hardin during their second-round playoff game.

In making its first trip to the Class AA/A state championship game, the Wesleyan boys soccer team is making a trip into uncharted territory.

However, that's nothing compared to the unknown the No. 1 state-ranked Wolves (13-3-1) will be facing when they welcome third-ranked Thomasville to Henderson Stadium for tonight's title game at 8 p.m.

The Bulldogs (18-0-4), who reside in the shadow of the Georgia-Florida border, are a South Georgia team making a rare appearance in the title game.

They have ventured north of the "Gnat Line" a few times this season -- mainly during their playoff run, during which they have knocked off Landmark Christian, Athens Academy and Aquinas to get to tonight's match.

Still, Wesleyan coach Billy Coxhead says he will mainly have to rely on word of mouth for his scouting report on Thomasville, including that from his counterpart from across the Spalding Drive.

"They did play at Norcross (earlier this season, a 1-0 victory over the Blue Devils)," Coxhead said. "So, I've gotten a few comments from ... Norcross coach (Chris Bess). And Blessed Trinity's coach (Don Gillig) was helpful. He didn't play them, but he watched them play Athens Academy and Dutchtown (earlier this season). But (Thomasville) will be largely an unknown."

From what little Coxhead has been able to gather from the scouting reports, Thomasville is especially dangerous in the penalty area on both ends of the field.

That means the Wesleyan defense, which has posted four straight shutouts behind goalkeeper Andrew Sunderman, will have to be particularly on guard against experienced, physical attackers like seniors Dylan White -- who scored with 9.2 seconds left to lift the Bulldogs into tonight's match with a 4-3 win at Aquinas -- and Marco Mata.

"They like to put the ball in the box in the air," Coxhead said. "We need to be prepared to defend any set piece to keep their big, aggressive people from finishing."

On the offensive end, the Wolves will need another big night from main threats like Greg MacKenzie, who had a goal and two assists in Wesleyan's semifinal win over Calhoun, Jeffrey Lutton and Chris Duvall.

"Our big three need to possess the ball a lot even though we'll be playing a team that's bigger and stronger and quicker than any team we've played this year," Coxhead said.

But perhaps Wesleyan's biggest challenge may be dealing with the other unknown -- that of playing for a state title for the first time.

The atmosphere figures to be very emotionally charged playing in front of a home crowd against a Thomasville team that will have traveled approximately 2,000 miles in the postseason by the time it returns home.

Coxhead says is looking for his to be emotionally and mentally alert to deal with both issues.

"It's not necessarily more of a concern, but it is a concern," Coxhead said. "Everybody's thrilled to be in the championship game for the first time, but we don't want our players to be content with that. Mentally, we need to be ready.

"It certainly is an advantage playing at home. Thomasville may be a little road weary, but they have done what they've needed to do on the road so far. And they have 12 seniors and are very mission oriented. They're on a mission to validate South Georgia soccer."