Spartans succumb to second-half surge

Photo: Craig Cappy<br> GAC's Denzel Clarke (10) tries to get the ball past Westminster goalie Robby Greenfiels during the Class AA state championship game Saturday.

Photo: Craig Cappy
GAC's Denzel Clarke (10) tries to get the ball past Westminster goalie Robby Greenfiels during the Class AA state championship game Saturday.

NORCROSS -- Two state powers clashed in the Class AA boys state soccer finals on Saturday night in Westminster and Greater Atlanta Christian.

The match boiled down to a few key opportunities, and one team took advantage while the other let it slip away.

Behind the strength of a pair of second-half goals, Westminster erased a 1-0 deficit and rallied to capture the Class AA state crown with a 2-1 win over the Spartans.

The win secured Westminster's ninth state title and avenged a 3-2 loss to GAC during the regular season.

"We had our chances but just couldn't put them away," GAC head coach Thom Jacquet said. "There were times where we looked really, really good tonight and the ball moving and the chances were created. We just couldn't put them away."

One of those chances for GAC (17-3) came just 23 seconds into the match when Westminster was called for a handball in the box, giving the Spartans a great chance to steal an early goal with a penalty kick.

Denzel Clarke went to the line to take the PK, only to have his shot denied by keeper Andrew Freschi when he redirected the shot after diving to his right. Freschi ended the night with seven saves, with four of those coming in the second half.

Westminster also had one slip through its fingers when the Wildcats thought they had scored in the 30th minute, but the goal was waved off due to offsides.

After the first half ended in a scoreless tie, GAC took control with 28:47 left off a goal by Clarke.

Clarke was able to take control of the ball in the right side of the box just outside the post, turned on his defender and put home a rifle shot.

With the state title less than 30 minutes away on a field it rarely loses on, GAC soon found itself in a real dogfight barely nine minutes after Clarke's goal.

With 19:43 left to play, Westminster was awarded a PK when the Spartans were hit for a foul in the box. Tyler Hilliard stepped forward and buried it in, knotting things up 1-1.

With the intensity growing, Westminster was able to hang onto the momentum gained off the PK goal and went ahead 2-1 off a goal by Jack Kidd, who put the Wildcats up with a nice header.

"Getting scored on with five minutes to go is pretty hard," Jacquet said.

GAC didn't go away quietly as the Spartans mounted a huge surge of offense in the game's final minutes. GAC had three corner kicks and one direct kick from just outside the box in the last two minutes, but was repelled each time by the Wildcat defense.

"I can't take the credit for this, it was the boys who stepped up and played," Westminster head coach Scott Snyder said. "GAC dominated the game at times but we had some resiliency."

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