Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Collins Hill's Jordan Brust can't watch as Walton players and fans celebrate the Class AAAAA state championship on Saturday. The Raiders defeated the Eagles 2-1.
SUWANEE -- The last 20 minutes of Bucky Boozer's legendary head coaching career were spent holding on.
"As a coach, you look up and ask the clock to tick faster," the longtime leader of the Walton boys soccer program said. "(Collins Hill) threw a lot at us and we had to hold them off."
Putting his full squad of 11 back for the bulk of the second half, Boozer and his Raiders protected the lead for a 2-1 upset of two-time defending Class AAAAA champion Collins Hill on Saturday night in the state championship game. It gave Boozer, Walton's coach since 1985, his sixth state title and ended the second-ranked Eagles' bid to become the first Georgia boys team to win three straight championships outright.
After falling behind a goal in the 52nd minute, Collins Hill (20-2) tried all it could to penetrate Walton's packed-in defense. It created several dangerous opportunities in the waning moments, but never got the equalizer.
"When you're sitting 11 (players) behind the ball, it's tough," said Collins Hill's Drew Prentice, who lost his first playoff game in two seasons as the Eagles' head coach. "I'm not sure what we could have done differently (against that)."
The game-winning goal came when Walton's Jad Elkhalil crossed to a wide-open Ali Elkhalil, whose sliding volley put the visitors up 2-1. From there, Collins Hill pushed forward but struggled against Walton's big, physical defenders and midfielders, who were clamped down in their half of the field.
Nima Vojdani's great service to Emmanuel Raji nearly resulted in a Collins Hill goal but Raji's header went just wide in the 64th minute. Eli Carrasco's 35-yard blast in the 73rd minute also narrowly missed and Matt Dyck's long shot was tipped up, off the crossbar and over with 22 seconds left.
Collins Hill's frustration with Walton's physical play netted some cards in the final minutes. After Eagle star Dominic Bonilla was taken down in the box without a call, his teammates began voicing their frustrations over the next few minutes. Josh Fancher got a yellow for dissent in the 78th minute and with 34 seconds left Nomis Cisic was sent off with a yellow, then a red as he walked away.
As Walton made a final clearance, the Collins Hill players dropped in agony, knowing their 14-game winning streak and two-year reign as champions were over.
"It wasn't our best performance," said Prentice, whose team beat top-ranked Lassiter on Wednesday. "I was kind of worried because I knew it would be tough coming off such a huge night Wednesday, not just physically but mentally."
After giving up five Walton corner kicks in the game's first 20 minutes, Collins Hill still was in great shape after Bonilla scored a beautiful goal in the 32nd minute. The Akron signee took a rebound and ripped a volley from 25 yards out that left Walton goalkeeper Alex McCauley helpless.
The Eagles had a two-on-one moments later but Jordan Brust was stuffed by a Walton defender, keeping the goal at a lead. Then Ali Elkhalil scored his first goal with just 3:41 left in the first half, giving Walton (16-4) some momentum going into halftime.
"The two goals we gave up were really bad defensive breakdowns," Prentice said.
The second goal and the lead sent Walton into its defensive shell, frustrating the smaller, quicker Eagles who couldn't use their speed with a lack of space on half the field.
"That Collins Hill team we beat was a great team," Boozer said.
Despite the loss, Collins Hill is still on a pretty good four-year run of two state titles and two state runner-up finishes. Though a strong senior class graduates, a number of key players on the field Saturday night were underclassmen.
The bright future doesn't console the seniors, who hoped to go out on top.
"It's an amazing run," Prentice said. "The senior guys have been here four years. They've been in every state championship game. They don't know what it's like to not be in the state championship game."
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