POWDER SPRINGS — Gainesville’s chances for its first boys soccer title since 2010 may have been doomed long before its Saturday showdown with national powerhouse Dalton in the Class 6A finals.
The Red Elephants had four key starters out, including starting keeper Eduardo Bautista, who was the savior in their penalty kick victory over Cambridge on Tuesday in the semifinals. Then another key starter, Armando Hernandez, was forced to leave after just 10 minutes into Saturday's final with an injury.
That left as many on the Gainesville bench in street clothes or being treated as was on the field. In the end, the losses were just too much to overcome against the nationally fourth-ranked Catamounts in a 4-1 defeat at McEachern High School's Cantrell Stadium.
“I’ve never had a team with so many injuries,” Gainesville coach Elie Viviant said afterward. “It’s hard to beat the No. 4 team anyway but it’s almost impossible if you don’t have all your players. I thought we played pretty well considering. I just wish we would have been able to give them a better game.”
The Catamounts dominated the match from the opening kick. They controlled the ball nearly the entire first seven minutes generating two corners, one free kick, and three shots on goal. The Red Elephants did not get their first real opportunity until a free kick by Jorge Vasquez in the 8th minute. They didn’t get their first official shot until the 12th minute.
Still, the game was a scoreless tie into the 19th minute when Gainesville got a golden chance to steal the opening lead. A Vasquez blast off a corner was punched out by Dalton keeper Nestor Mendez. Then Pedro Santos’s rebound blast from 3-yards out hit a kneeling Mendez square in the face and deflected out denying the Red Elephants.
“We had a great chance there and who knows how things are played if we get that one and the lead,” Viviant said. “If you tried to kick a ball into someone’s face you probably would never be able to do it. Just a little unlucky there.”
Dalton used that to create a quick break and a header by Yahir Perez off a cross in the 20th minute past a diving David Esquivel gave the Catamounts the 1-0 lead.
Esquivel drew the starting assignment in goal when Bautista was ruled out on Friday with a kidney injury suffered in the semifinal win over Cambridge.
“We didn’t know about that until (Friday) and he can’t even jog for six weeks,” Viviant said. “That was just another bad break. What can you do?”
Dalton continued the attack against the smaller Gainesville defense and Tony Saldana got the first of two header goals off a corner from Omar Hernandez in the 27th minute. He added his second goal with 6:57 left in the half off a free kick on what looked like a missed offsides call.
The Catamounts had seven corners and 13 shots in the first half to just two corners and 5 shots for Gainesville.
Dalton added on in the 55th minute in the second half on a Manny Prieto goal on a ricochet off a cross from Damian Rodriquez.
Gainesville finally broke through when sophomore Alexander Mozqueda banged in a deflection off a long throw-in with 12:35 left. The Red Elephants generated one more scoring chance three minutes later but could not get closer.
It was a disappointing end for a squad that defied the odds the last two playoff rounds and did not allow the roster depletion and changes to affect them.
“Not disappointed in the guys at all,” Viviant said. “Again, just unlucky to have that many guys get hurt or be ineligible. As a program, I think we’re where we need to be. We just need to be healthy when we get to the biggest game of the season.”