OAKWOOD -- The Johnson boys soccer team could care less about rankings or "statement" games.
"We're just trying to get better every game," Knights coach Brian Shirley said.
Besides, Friday's 4-0 win over No. 5 Chestatee did plenty of talking for Johnson -- in fact in the second half it was more like yelling, as the top-ranked Knights scored three of their goals after the interval to cruise through the top 10 showdown.
"We came in expecting to perform well, but I really think the guys, for the most part, treated this like any other region game," Shirley said.
As a number of Region 8-AAAA foes have already discovered, that can be a dangerous thing.
Johnson has allowed just two goals in region play so far this season -- both coming in a 10-2 blowout of Monroe Area -- and the Knights defense, led by Edgar Torres and Jonathan Gillham, clamped down again on Friday, not allowing a shot on goal in the first half -- though goalkeeper Ivan Salcido did charge off his line to smother a one-on-one opportunity midway through the first half. And by the time the War Eagles began to forge routes into the Knights' penalty area, they were already staring at a sizable deficit thanks to some clinical finishing from the hosts.
Barut Perez got things started with the only goal of the first half, rising unmarked to head home a corner kick. The senior added another strike midway through the second half, while Fabian Abarca and Luis Deltoro also converted scoring opportunities to seal their 12th straight win.
"The guys know we're doing well, but we still haven't played a full 80 minutes to the best of our ability," Shirley said. "It's nice to be recognized (as the No. 1 team in Class AAAA), but it's only March 28; we want to be playing until mid-May, so we've got to keep improving."
The Knights (12-0, 5-0 Region 8-AAAA) even improved during Friday's contest, grabbing hold of midfield as the game wore on and choking off Chestatee's lightning-quick transition game.
"Our defense did a great job stopping their counter -- that part of their game really scared me," Shirley said. "But our midfield was also a little shaky there early, and in the second half Fidel (Rodriguez), Israel (Avila) and (Luis) Deltoro really settled in and took some pressure off our defense."
The goals helped too.
Perez got things started with a text-book header, planting a Johnson corner kick in the net just 4:12 into the contest. The goal helped the Knights claw their way back from a strong start from the War Eagles (10-3, 6-2), who looked lively over the opening minutes, Cristian Felix coming close to breaking through on two occasions.
Once Johnson claimed the lead, however, the Knights began to impose themselves on the contest, and by halftime Chestatee goalkeeper Miguel Calderon found himself under consistent pressure, denying Deltoro on one point-blank shot and turning away another angled effort from Jeffrey Cabrales to keep Chestatee in striking distance at the half.
The Knights began pulling away after the interval, however, starting with Abarca's long-range strike with 30:14 remaining -- his whipped delivery eluding Calderon's first save attempt and just crossing the line before the keeper could grab the shot on his second attempt.
Perez made it 3-0 with 22:55 remaining, slamming a short-range effort into the net after Abarca headed a Deltoro free kick into the captain's path.
Deltoro capped the scoring with 12 minutes to go, converting a breakaway after Bryant Anaya beat Calderon to a loose ball and found the senior in space.
"We've still got a ways to go, and there are negatives from this game that we can take and work on," Shirley said. "That's what we do after every game, identify the negatives and work to correct them."
That work certainly looks to be paying off.
Johnson will take a quick break from its region schedule with a game on Tuesday against Rabun County before facing Eastside on Thursday.
The loss completed the War Eagles region season. They will play host to Gilmer on Tuesday.
JOHNSON GIRLS 5,
The Lady Knights cruised to their sixth straight victory and continued their resurgence on Friday with a key region win.
Hannah Hester -- who has scored seven goals in Johnson's last three contests -- bagged two strikes to help seal the victory.
The Lady Knights (6-5-1, 4-1 Region 8-AAAA) stormed to a 3-0 first half lead, starting with a penalty kick from Chandler Steele, who converted after a Chestatee defender was ejected for handling the ball on the goal line.
Kelsey Dumanowsky also scored and provided two assists, while Evelin Aviata also struck in the second half, Hannah Mullinax providing the assist.
Johnson will look to keep rolling on Tuesday against Rabun County in Oakwood.
Chestatee (8-5, 5-3) will play host to Gilmer on Tuesday.