COLLEGE PARK -- Who's No. 1 now?
The West Hall boys put themselves right in that discussion on Tuesday by knocking out the top-ranked team in Class AAA and moving into the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2009 with a 3-1 defeat of Woodward Academy in College Park.
The Spartans (12-5-2) responded to falling a goal behind in the opening five minutes with a stellar performance that saw them rattle off three unanswered strikes -- including two in the second half to seal the win against a traditional power and a program that has played in the last four Class AAA title games.
"This is a marquee win for our program, as far as I know our team has never beaten a No. 1 team in soccer," West Hall coach Tim Gale said. "We're thinking some good things right now, and we worked hard for this game. We knew this was a huge hurdle for us, but we found a way."
The Spartans found a way via goals from Ramsis Martinez, Jordan Moreno and Omar Castillo, while putting in some hard work in defense to deny the War Eagles (13-3-2) -- though the early deficit forced the Spartans out of their usual slow build into attack.
"We keep a more defensive posture at beginning of games and then players find their comfort zone and nudge forward and give us more chances to score," Gale said. "But we haven't been doing that as much the last few games. We're finding ways to get the ball down the field and ways to get players forward."
Constant defensive effort from all of its players -- all over the pitch -- also made a difference for the visitors on Tuesday, as they never let Woodward get too comfortable in possession.
"The high pressure from most of our team made a huge difference," Gale said. "They didn't get to keep the ball as long as they wanted to."
Woodward looked like it was making its usual playoff push early, as the War Eagles pulled ahead just five minutes in thanks to a chip into the penalty area that, combined with a slip in defense, yielded a 1-0 Woodward lead.
The Spartans were not going anywhere, however, and Castillo and Martinez combined midway through the first half to level the score at 1-1, Castillo crossing for Marinez to score at the back post.
The strike set the stage for a dramatic second half, which saw West Hall pull ahead with just over 15 minutes remaining. This time Bradley Hodgson's long throw-in found the head of Jordan Moreno, who connected for a 2-1 Spartans advantage.
Minutes later, Castillo provided the icing on the cake, scoring off an Isaac Castruita assist to make it 3-1 and pull off one of the bigger results of the campaign.
"Our team has just found its stride," Gale said. "We're excited, and I can't ask more of the boys; they're playing great."
The Spartans -- the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAA -- will play host to fellow No. 2 seed Peach County on Friday in Oakwood, kickoff time to be determined.
The results of Tuesday -- which also saw 7-AAA No. 4 seed North Hall win and No. 1 seed Dawson County fall in a gripping penalty kick shootout to defending Class AAA champ St. Pius -- show that West Hall will be up for the challenge.
"We do have a very strong region, and we play a lot of great soccer in this area, and it helped us," Gale said. "We learned from those games (we lost). And we're still playing -- hopefully we can keep going and see what happens."