GAINESVILLE — If Wednesday's state playoff contest provided questions for the Gainesville High boys soccer team, then Saturday's quarterfinal proved the perfect response.
After reaching the third round via a less-than-convincing overtime defeat of Alexander, the Red Elephants left no doubt in the quarterfinal round, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 5-1 victory over Richmond Hill at City Park in Gainesville.
The Red Elephants (18-2) even came up with the perfect response within the contest, as Pedro Santos answered the Wildcats' lone strike with an impressive display of skill that restored Gainesville's control at 2-1 just before halftime.
"Sometimes we play down to the level of the teams we play against, and that happened to us Wednesday," Red Elephants coach Elie Viviant said. "We had plenty of possession in the second round but didn't do anything with it. Today we were always going forward, and it was only a matter of time till we scored."
Santos, Armando Hernandez, Cristian Jaimes, Cristian Rodriguez and Elvis Bonilla spread the wealth for Gainesville's attack -- though Santos' goal proved critical as Gainesville booked its spot in the Class 6A semifinals.
"We had four-five chances, and they had one and scored, so it was nice to get a response and have a lead at halftime," Viviant said. "After they scored I put all the starters right back in, and they made something happen."
The Red Elephants took control from the start, with Santos and Hernandez pulling the strings in attack and keeping the Wildcats (12-5-3) pinned in their own half.
Jovanei Santana missed on an opportunity to give Gainesville the lead three minutes into the contest, when he headed a failed clearance just wide of an open goal.
Hernandez did not miss with 32:39 remaining, however, pouncing on another half clearance to stake the Red Elephants to a 1-0 lead after the Wildcats failed to deal with a Gainesville corner kick. The ball falling right into his path, Hernandez volleyed confidently into the net.
Four minutes later Jaimes missed an opportunity to extend the lead when the Wildcats again struggled to clear another Red Elephants corner kick. But Jaimes could only head wide of the net. Santana also came close again, dragging a 20-yard free kick just wide of the Richmond Hill post with 26 minutes remaining in the half.
Then came an unfortunate sequence for both teams.
Gainesville was struck first, as starting goalkeeper Eduardo Bautista charged out to deny Agboade Sobowale and slammed into the Richmond Hill winger, sustaining an arm injury that knocked him from the contest, as the Red Elephants inserted back-up Ever Amaya with 20:47 left in the half.
"He seemed to be OK," Viviant said of Bautista. "We were being cautious, but we'll see how it progresses."
Four minutes later, Richmond Hill lost its starting keeper, as Ryan Quick suffered an injury while diving to keep out a Gainesville shot. The Wildcats turned to back-up Jacob Castle -- who was almost immediately tested by Jaimes' driven shot but dove low to keep his team in the contest.
The save loomed large minutes later when Richmond Hill leveled the score.
Matthew Minning produced a well-taken free kick, flighting the ball across the Red Elephants' goal mouth for teammate Trevor Blitchington, who headed home from close range with 4:26 remaining in the half.
Far from stunned, Gainesville responded almost immediately -- and it was through an impressive piece of skill from Santos.
Picking up the ball 30 yards from goal, the attacker split two defenders to sprint into the Richmond Hill penalty area, cut back and curl a pinpoint 16-yard shot over Castle for 2-1 with just 1:40 left in the half.
The strike encouraged continued Red Elephants attacks after the interval, and Gainesville reaped the rewards just five minutes into the restart.
Earning a free kick just to the left of the Richmond Hill penalty area Hernandez crossed for Jaimes -- who did not miss this time, heading unerringly into the net for a 3-1 advantage.
The Red Elephants were not finished, however, and Rodriguez added an exclamation point with 25:41 remaining, ripping a 25-yard shot into the Wildcats net for a 4-1 lead.
Bonilla added the cherry to the icing, beating a defender and rounding Castle to score for a 5-1 advantage 9:05 left to play.
By then, Gainesville was already looking toward its second straight Final Four.
"There's no bad teams left, and the past seven-eight games -- other than Wednesday -- we've been really strong, so we'll see," Viviant said.
Gainesville will travel for the semifinals, heading to the winner of the Cambridge vs. Greenbrier match on Tuesday.