Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Collins Hills Aldo Lara (7) and Ricky Ortega (9) run towards goalie Jackson Taylor after winning the Class AAAAA state championship in penalty kicks on Friday. The Eagles defeated Northview 1-0.
JOHNS CREEK Thanks to a stout defense, Jackson Taylor didn't face a single shot on goal through 80 minutes of regulation and two five-minute overtimes.
When the freshman goalkeeper finally came under fire on penalty kicks, he delivered.
Taylor made two huge saves in the PKs as the second-ranked Eagles won their second straight Class AAAAA state championship with a 1-0 victory over No. 1 Northview on Friday night. Though Collins Hill missed its first PK, it rallied to make four straight kicks and the host Titans missed on their third and fourth chances.
It was a thrilling finish to a long night that featured a one-hour lightning delay.
"We worked so hard for this," senior sweeper Jonathan Nelson said. "We worked harder this year than any year I've been here. We worked unbelievably hard. We just felt like we deserved it."
Peter Kurowski, Ricky Ortega, Aldo Lara and Dominic Bonilla all converted PKs, with Bonilla knocking down the clincher. Taylor's first save on Northview's third kick tied the round back up, then his second save, also to his right, gave Bonilla a chance to seal it.
When his shot hit the net, Collins Hill was the champion again. And a freshman goalie was the hero.
"It felt awesome (to make the saves)," Taylor said. "This is probably the greatest moment in my soccer career. It's so good to win it in front of all the people who came out to watch this."
The victory avenged a 2-0 loss to Northview on March 23, with that setback costing Collins Hill the Region 7-AAAAA title and its No. 1 national ranking. The Eagles (20-2) refocused quickly behind an ultimate goal of repeating as state champions, which they accomplished Friday by stopping a 12-game winning streak by North view (17-2).
Collins Hill won its last eight games with an impressive effort defensively, holding their opposition to three goals during that span. Northview rarely threatened the Eagles' back four in the finals as Nelson, Nick Lane, Brady O'Brien and Josh Fancher controlled the area in front of Taylor.
"It was great to have defense like that," Taylor said. "It's probably the best we've played on defense all year."
"It's been awhile since we shut out a good team," first-year Collins Hill coach Drew Prentice said. "That was huge."
Collins Hill had gotten the better of play prior to the lightning delay, holding a 5-0 edge in shots on goal and all of the close opportunities. Some of the most dangerous were shots that weren't on goal Malcolm Miller (in the 23rd, 26th and 58th minutes). A volley from Peter Kurowski in the 30th minute and a rocket from Zak Wallingford in the 55th minute were both saved.
The Eagles thought they had a goal in the 50th minute when Fancher connected with Wallingford, whose finish found the net, but the linesman called Wallingford offsides.
The final seconds of regulation were tense, when two Collins Hill defenders were sent off with yellow cards (part of five Eagle yellows in the half) with five seconds left. The ensuing free kick gave Northview time for a header just over the goal as time expired.
Kurowski had the only shot on goal of the first overtime, but a closer call came with 44 seconds left when a Northview defender nearly scored an own goal off a Collins Hill corner kick but the ball sailed just high.
With 14 seconds left in the second overtime Northview got another scare when Dominic Bonilla sent a cross that a defender hit toward the goal and barely wide.
Collins Hill held a 6-0 edge in shots on goal and a 6-2 edge in corner kicks through regulation and OT.
That kind of play didn't lead to a goal, but strong defense and a few key PK saves were enough to give the Eagles another championship.
"It was pretty important for these kids," Prentice said. "This is their third state finals and there's no more fitting way for them to go out than this."