The atmosphere in Tuesday night's Class AAAAA boys soccer semifinal was pretty special.
Fans from both Collins Hill and Brookwood filled the stands in Snellville, and the visiting fans went crazy at the game's ultimate moment, Eli Carrasco's game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory that sent the Eagles to their fifth straight state championship game. Carrasco fueled the frenzy, leading his teammates in a celebration dance in front of the crowd.
As exciting as that was, it will go to another level tonight when third-ranked Collins Hill (17-4) hosts No. 1 Centennial (20-1-1) for the AAAAA title.
"It's going to be crazy," Carrasco said. "I can't even describe it."
If any team knows the state finals atmosphere, it's Collins Hill.
The Eagles have been there the past five seasons, winning titles in 2009 and 2010. But the freshest memory is last year's stunning loss to Lassiter, which also happened on the Eagles' home field.
An early 1-0 lead morphed into a 2-1 deficit and Walton packed its defense in during the second half, holding off the hard-charging Eagles. It was a disappointing finish for a team that had a chance to win its third straight AAAAA title.
Centennial, meanwhile, is after its first state championship. The Knights have a 13-game winning streak since a 2-2 draw with Habersham Central on March 20. Their lone loss this season was 1-0 to Lassiter back on March 3.
They haven't been tested
"Centennial's strong," Collins Hill boys coach Drew Prentice said after beating Brookwood. "It's going to be another tough match."
Prentice feels pretty good about his team, too.
The Eagles have turned things around since a surprising 3-1 loss to North Gwinnett, an upset that had them hardly looking like a state championship contender.
But they've been strong since the stunning loss, pairing the typically stout offense with a stifling defense. Veteran goalkeeper Jackson Taylor, a freshman starter on Collins Hill's 2010 championship team, and his defense -- Khallil Stewart, Freddie Maier, Zach Jones and Edan Mendoza --haven't allowed much since the North game.
During that 11-match span, Collins Hill has given up only four goals.
The defense's task will be extra tough tonight against Centennial, which has outscored four solid metro Atlanta teams 18-3 in the playoffs. Its past two victories have come over two of Gwinnett's best teams --3-1 over Mill Creek in the quarterfinals and 5-1 over Parkview in the semifinals.
Both of those teams struggled with Centennial's dangerous, long throw-ins so defending those will be critical in the state finals.