OAKWOOD — It was not easy or pretty, but the Johnson boys soccer team cannot complain about their 1-0 Class 5A quarterfinal defeat of Union Grove on Saturday in Oakwood.
After winning their first two state playoff games by a combined 13-0, the Knights (16-2-2) were hoping to overwhelm yet another foe at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium, but the Wolverines had other ideas, dropping 11 players behind the ball on multiple occasions and forcing second-ranked Johnson to work even the slightest opening in front of goal.
"They were tough to break down, and their goalkeeper also made a couple nice saves on free kicks -- it was frustrating," Knights coach Brian Shirley said.
Yet the hosts still created a breakthrough midway through the first half, as Marco Vazquez pounced on a pass from Josh Elizalde to score the game's only goal in the 27th minute.
The Wolverines continued to deny Johnson, however, and despite dominating in the stat book -- the Knights piled up 22 shots vs. just 4 for Union Grove -- the hosts were forced to come up with a late defensive stop to ensure their advantage. Johnson goalkeeper Cooper Bowen was up to the challenge, snuffing out a one-on-one counter-attack with just minutes remaining. Bowen finished with just 2 saves.
"After the game the mindset of the guys was a little disappointed that they didn't play their best," Shirley said. "But I think they'll go to sleep realizing they're back in the semifinals, and that, while we have some things to work on, they'll probably come back hungrier."
Johnson will travel for the semifinals in their second FInal Four appearance in three seasons, where they will take on the winner of the Carrollton-Starr's Mill match.
"We have to go down and take care of business. The level of competition will go up significantly in the next round, but we've played well on the road against tough opposition already this season," Shirley said. "Hopefully we'll have a good fanbase make the trip and support us wherever we go."