BUFORD -- With the region schedule barely a week old, it's hard to imagine a game as a must-win so early. But with four teams in Region 7-AAA ranked in the top 10, there is little margin for error for teams wanting to make a playoff run.
As a result, the North Hall boys played with a sense of urgency Tuesday night and it payed off as the Class AAA eighth-ranked Trojans came away with a nail-biting 2-1 victory over Buford on the road.
Both teams came in tied for fifth place in the region standings. With the win, North Hall (6-2-1, 2-1 Region 7-AAA) stayed in the playoff race. The loss for the Wolves (2-6-1, 1-2) may have put a dent in their playoff chances.
"Two losses in the region so early would have been tough to overcome," North Hall coach Jonathan Lillie said. "This was definitely a must-win. Now we still have control of our own destiny."
North Hall played an aggressive offensive-minded game attacking the Buford defense for the first three-fourths of the game.
In the early minutes the Trojans forced one corner that Buford goalie Zach Vickery thwarted with a punch out over the crossbar. But the Trojans forced a direct kick two minutes later and sophomore Hunter Carter headed in a nice pass on a cross for a 1-0 lead.
Vickery kept the Wolves in the game in the first half with six saves to keep it a one-goal game.
Buford mounted a couple of charges late in the first half, including a nifty move by Miguel Burgos in front of the goal to create a wide-open net, but the Wolves could not get a shot past North Hall keeper Abraham Elias.
Both offenses picked up the pace to open the second half. Buford's Colin Owen just missed a straight-on shot from 20 yards out that brushed the crossbar in the fourth minute.
Both teams attacked and counter-attacked over the next three minutes before an altercation between Buford's Joe Guiney and North Hall's Junior Avalos changed the momentum. Guiney was given a yellow card while Avalos received a red card forcing the Trojans to play a man down.
But Carter would make sure that did not come back to bite North Hall. Carter tallied his second goal moments later on a 30-yard blast beating Vickery with a shot into the low left corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead with 33:29 left in the game.
"It was a strange event because we thought it was going to go the other way," Carter said. "I was just thinking I need to score. I hit it right where I wanted to. I think it gave us a big lift."
Lillie could not have agreed more.
"That was a huge shot," Lillie said of Carter's long-range blast. "He came up big for us tonight. Now we just have to wait to see how long Junior is out."
Avalos will miss at least one game and possibly two, depending on the ruling by GHSA.
North Hall went into a defensive mode from there while Buford went on the attack. The Wolves had four solid scoring chances over the next 12 minutes as Willy Uriostegui and Fredy Benitez each missed from close range. Burgos had a pair of scoring chances but both times Elias made the save.
Buford also had two corner opportunities but both times the North Hall defense was able to steer them away from Elias. The Wolves finally broke through when Owen had a run down the right side and then crossed to Connor Regan, who slipped it past Elias with a header to cut the lead to 2-1 with 6:14 left.
Buford continued to put the pressure on in the final moments but Elias and the North Hall defense were able to keep the Wolves at bay.
It was the first road win of the season for North Hall. The loss for the Wolves was their fourth in the last five games.
BUFORD GIRLS 7
NORTH HALL 0
The Buford girls early dominance in Region 7-AAA continued Tuesday.
Brie Smith scored four goals, including a first-half hat trick, and the Class AAA fourth-ranked Lady Wolves pitched their third consecutive shutout in region play with a lopsided win over the Lady Trojans at home.
Buford (7-2-2, 3-0-0 Region 7-AAA) wasted little time in getting on the board. Smith and Ambria Shutts scored 50 seconds apart in the first two minutes for a quick 2-0 lead. Smith added her second goal 14 minutes later and then completed the hat trick with another goal off a loose ball in front of the net with 19:06 left in the half.
Abie Oates added a goal at the 15 minute mark to make it a 5-0 lead, a lead the Lady Wolves would take into halftime.
Buford picked up where it left off in the second half as Smith booted in a rebound just over three minutes into the half for her fourth goal for a 6-0 lead. Seven minutes later Ceely Coker scored off a pass from Brooke Horist for a 7-0 Buford lead.
Buford put in its reserves in the final 20 minutes and North Hall managed two shots on goal but could not break through.
North Hall next will play host to Banks County on Friday. Buford will play host to Fannin County on Friday in the second of a three-game homestand.