Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill's Nomis Cisic (8) celebrates his first half goal against Centennial in the first half of the Class AAAAA boys soccer championship game Friday. Teammate Carlos Estrada (7) joins in while Centennial goal keeper Matt Celani falls into the goal. Collins Hill defeated Centennial 3-1 to win the state championship.
SUWANEE -- Reaching one state final in any sport is an accomplishment, but for the Collins Hill boys soccer program, it has almost become routine.
Competing in its fifth straight state title match, Collins Hill put together an agressive offensive front in combination with a strong defensive effort to knock off Centennial 3-1 in the Class AAAAA state finals on Friday night.
The state title was the third in the last four years for the Eagles (18-4), who sent head coach Drew Prentice off with the ultimate going away gift.
"We had lost a lot from the last two years with graduation," said Prentice, who is leaving the program for the Dacula Soccer Club. "We had hopes of being here but a lot of people didn't think that we would be back at this level. I'm real proud of our guys because they had worked so hard for this."
Collins Hill forward Emmanuel Raji, who finished with one goal and one assist, echoed those sentiments.
"Unbelievable, even for us just to get back here," Raji said. "We got off to a bumpy start this year and a lot of people started to doubt us. We had so many young guys step up for us. Tonight was an awesome team effort."
Centennial had trounced its opponents in the previous four playoff games, including a 5-1 win over Parkview in the semifinals and a 3-1 defeat of Mill Creek in the quarterfinals.
But it was Collins Hill on Friday night that found its offensive stroke, continually attacking the defensive backfield of the Knights.
"They came right after us," Centennial head coach Phil Thomas said. "Collins Hill is very skilled and very athletic and did a good job of moving the ball around. They won the majority of the 50-50s, which is where I think that most games are won. They really made us struggle tonight."
Collins Hill started its offensive attack from the first minute and finally broke through 26 minutes into the match when Nomis Cisic came through with a goal.
Amiri Abraham logged the assist when he found Cisic open about 15 yards out in front of the goal, and Cisic put the Eagles up 1-0 when his shot rolled in the bottom left corner.
"As soon as we got that first goal, we relaxed a bit," Raji said. "It settled our nerves a lot."
Five minutes later, however, Centennial (20-2-1) found the equalizer off a header from Cameron Bean. Bean's goal resulted from a long free kick from Amin El-Shami, who lofted the ball into a group of players in front of the goal.
Keeper Jackson Taylor, who had a nice game with five saves, came out in an attempt to punch the ball out, but Bean got to it first and directed it home.
Things wouldn't stay knotted at 1-1 for long when the Eagles picked up a huge momentum boost on a goal with 3:11 left in the half.
That goal wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for a nice defensive play by Edan Mendoza, who thwarted one of the few Centennial attacks on the night.
Mendoza's deflection off a pass led to a Collins Hill possession, with Emmanuel Raji taking control of the ball in the left side of the box.
Raji's cross pass found Abraham in front of the goal, who easily put it in past keeper Matt Celani for the 2-1 lead.
The agressiveness the Eagles showed in the first half continued in the final 40 minutes, eventually taking control with 18:10 left to play when Raji scored off an assist from Carlos Estrada.
Centennial, now trailing by two goals, tried to answer and mounted several possessions that resulted in solid shots, but Taylor picked up two nice saves to repel the attack.
Both teams finished with six shots on goal, while the Eagles held a 4-1 advantage on corner kicks.
"(Centennial) was the best team we've played all year," Raji said. "But we knew how good we could be on defense. (Centennial) was scary good on their throw ins, but we were able to knock them back."