Photo: John Amis
Berkmar goalkeeper Juan Carlos Lopez defends the goal against Walton during the first half of a state playoff game Wednesday at Berkmar.
LILBURN -- Ernesto Cardenas did it again.
The man who scored the game-winning goal in Berkmar's first-round victory over West Forsyth headed in a 20-yard pass to tie Walton 1-1 with one minute left in the first half.
The beautiful delivery and smooth header sent the rowdy Patriots' student section into pandemonium.
Then everyone turned around.
The little guy in the red ref's uniform had his hand up at the top of the penalty box. Offside. No goal.
"I've got 20-20 vision," Berkmar head coach Tracy Crouch said after the game. "It was a clear night. They had a guy on the goal line. That's the breaks."
The Region 8-AAAAA champions would not get a better chance. Their history-making season came to an end Wednesday in the Sweet 16 of the Class AAAAA boys soccer playoffs with a 1-0 loss to the perennial power from Cobb County.
While the Patriots (15-3-1) controlled most of the game, all fingers were pointed back to the end of the first half. A call that only the ref and the Raiders believed.
"They denied me a goal," Cardenas said. "I was offside I guess, that's was the ref saw, right? That's why they are refs. I think I had the goal."
Even though that was Berkmar's best chance, it certainly was not its only one.
"That's not the call that ended the game for us," said Crouch. "We had early opportunities in the first half that we didn't capitalize on."
The Patriots outshot Walton 11-6 and only gave up one shot in the second half. But the bar kept getting in the way.
Juan Carlos Diaz hit the crossbar when goalie Alex McCauley misplayed one right in front of him in the fifth minute. McCauley mishandled another one eight minutes later, right in front of Cardenas. The senior beat the goalie, but not the defenseman standing on the goal line.
In the 19th minute, Rene Acosta would be the next Patriot to ring one. He headed a ball too high off a throw-in. The next heartbreaker came about 20 seconds after Cardenas' goal was taken away. On a throw-in, Cardenas quickly hit Martin Lugo with a long throw to the left side. He was wide open. Doink. Another save by the white cross bar. Lugo lay on the ground for 30 seconds paralyzed by his misfortune.
When the Patriots players couldn't hit the post, Walton defenders did it for them. In the 33rd minute, Grant Cooksey tried to head a ball back to his keeper. The ball went over McCauley's head. Take a guess where it landed. Crossbar, grass and cleared out of the way.
"You get those chances against a good team like Walton you have to put them away," Crouch said.
Walton (13-4) capitalized on its one and only chance of the first half. Holden Fender received a pass in the middle of the box in the sixth minute. He wheeled around and ripped a right-footed shot past keep Juan Carlos Lopez for the game's only tally.
The Patriots outshot the Raiders 6-1 in the second half and controlled the ball, but only got close once. It came in the 41st minute when Lugo ripped a shot from 22 yards out, but it went just wide of the left post.
"Walton is always Walton," Crouch said. "They have five state championships and they have an amazing team."
It was the end of a dream ride for this Patriots team with 13 seniors that made the playoffs and won region for the first time since anyone can remember. The best anyone can guess, a trip to the Sweet 16 has been an even rarer accomplishment at Berkmar.
"They changed the face and changed the reputation of Berkmar soccer," Crouch said. "We shared a special season together. Finally got some respect and that is our legacy."
"Never in Georgia soccer history has Berkmar made the second round of the playoffs," added Cardenas. "Before people would put us on their schedule because they thought they could beat us. Now it's the other way around. We brought pride and respect to Berkmar."
Still, that one offside to end the first half had a lot of people wondering, what if?
"It would have changed the chemistry of the game," said Cardenas. "If we played them five more times, we beat them five out of five."