SUGAR HILL -- After six straight weeks, the Johnson girls soccer team finally suffered "one of those days" in front of goal.
The Lady Knights battled throughout on Monday, out-shooting Lanier 16-6 but could not find a way past the Lady Longhorns' defense, suffering a 3-0 loss that halted Johnson's 10-game win streak and handed Lanier the Region 8-AAAA crown.
"They worked their tails off trying to get a goal today, and they had chances, but it just didn't happen," Johnson coach Phil Higgins said. "Soccer's like that sometimes. You play well but you just can't make it happen."
Lanier had plenty to do with that, defending doggedly after breaking for two early goals and remaining a constant threat via a quick, counter-attacking offense. And once Maddie Corley and Tori Wyant struck inside the opening 10 minutes, the Lady Knights (10-6-1, 6-2 Region 8-AAAA) spent much of the contest searching for an answer that would not come.
Johnson so nearly had the lead, however, as Evelin Aviata broke forward and rolled the ball into the Lanier net just six minutes into the contest -- only for the goal to be disallowed for offsides.
"It was tough to bounce back from the two early goals," said Higgins, whose team wrapped its Region 8-AAAA schedule with the No. 2 seed -- a fact impressive in of itself considering the Lady Knights opened the season 0-5-1.
"We had been slowly building from March 4 on, and this is the most unselfish team I have ever coached," Higgins said. "When we were 0-5-1 we just decided to say 'OK, let's step back and take the pressure off.' We as coaches told the players, 'we have confidence in you,' and it worked. In the second half of the season the biggest difference was the confidence the girls played with.
"Like today, even with 10 minutes left, our girls expected to win this game."
It showed in Johnson's determination, as the Lady Knights continued to press Lanier (12-3-1, 7-0) even after going 3-0 down on another goal from Wyant -- who headed home a free kick from Samantha Helmink with 22 minutes remaining.
Aviata, Hannah Hester and Chandler Steele worked tirelessly in attack for Johnson, and Hester so nearly carved out the opening strike for the Lady Knights when her cross eluded Lanier goalkeeper Emily Polanco. Yet Lonhorns defender Edith Perrotti intervened, clearing the loose ball off the goal line, just in front of Johnson's Kelsey Dumanowsky with 24 minutes remaining.
Polanco also denied Hester's driven shot with eight minutes remaining, diving to her right to push the effort around the goalpost, as Lanier clinched the 8-AAAA crown.
Johnson will host a first round playoff contest against an opponent to be determined and will close out the regular season on Wednesday at Lakeview Academy.
"Whoever we play we're going to face a good team, but one of our big goals is to win a playoff game," said Higgins, in his fifth year with the program. "We haven't done it yet in my time here, and we think this team can do it."
JOHNSON BOYS 2
The Knights bounced back from their first defeat of the season with two second-half strikes in Sugar Hill.
Barut Perez and Luis Deltoro each scored to unlock a resolute Longhorns defense -- led by goalkeeper Amaury Ramos, who led a Lanier backline that held Johnson (16-1, 8-0 Region 8-AAAA) scoreless for almost 65 minutes.
Perez finally broke through for the visitors with 15:49 left to play, reacting first to a save from Ramos -- who dove to deny a driven, 30-yard free kick from Deltoro but could only block into the path of Perez, who fired home for a 1-0 lead.
Seven minutes later, Deltoro got his own name on the scoresheet ripping a close-range volley past Ramos after Jeffrey Cabrales found Deltoro in a pocket of space inside the Longhorns penalty area.
"The guys came in a little off, and it took a little while to get cranked up," Knights coach Brian Shirley said. "You also have to give credit to their keeper; he made some incredible saves tonight."
Johnson, which had already clinched the 8-AAAA title, will close out the regular season on Wednesday at Lakeview Academy.
"We're in a good position right now, but we can still improve," Shirley said. "We still haven't played to our standard for a full 80 minutes."