Boys soccer playoffs: Johnson advances to 4th straight finals

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman
Posted 9:32PM on Friday 3rd May 2024 ( 2 months ago )

OAKWOOD, Ga. — Daniel Trujillo may be one of the smaller Johnson players, but he has been looming large for the Knights in the 2024 playoffs.

Three days after providing key screens on a pair of goals in the quarterfinals, the junior midfielder blasted home a rebound with 2:23 left to give the Knights the only goal in a 1-0 win over Northwest Whitfield on Friday in the Class 4A semifinals at The Dungeon.

“Daniel once again came up big for us when the team needed him,” Johnson coach Frank Zamora said.

Trujillo’s blast came after a Junior Castillo shot from point-blank range was stopped by Bruins’ keeper Nery Martinez, his sixth circus-like stop of the night. But Martinez did not have time to recover as Trujillo unloaded on the eventual game-winner.

Despite the raucous Johnson crowd roaring its approval, you could almost hear the sigh of relief as well as the Knights dominated the game with 80 percent possession and 21 shots to just 7 for the Bruins but had nothing to show for it until Trujillo’s goal.

“There was a little opening and I just saw that as a sign and I took it and it went in,” Trujillo said. “We missed on a lot of opportunities. We’ll just need to learn from this and make sure it doesn’t happen in the finals.”

Speaking of the finals, the win pushed Johnson (18-1-1) into its fourth straight championship match. The Knights, defending Class 4A state champions, will be looking for their third consecutive title.

They will get a rematch with Westminster, a 2-1 winner over Holy Innocents' in the other semifinal, on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Duluth High School. The Knights beat Westminster, 4-2, in the 2023 Class 4A championship game.

“It’s an amazing feeling what these boys are able to accomplish and get back there as a team,” Zamora said. ‘This is what it’s about when you can combine to develop young soccer players and young men of character. We are very proud of what we have been able to do with the program.”

Johnson controlled the possession almost from the start and generated 10 shots in the opening 40 minutes. Scoring chances were aplenty throughout the half for the Knights as well.

But they also were called for five offsides in the first half, as several potential chances were snuffed out.

Trujillo had a quick opportunity in the 5th minute off a throw-in. In the 17th minute Jalil Chavez looked poised to break the scoreless tie breaking unguarded into the box. But Martinez cut him off before he could wind up for a shot. Chavez got a rebound opportunity moments later but it was blocked.

Trujillo just missed the right post off a throw-in in the 19th minute. Andres Galicia connected with Castillo in the box on a give-and-go but Castillo’s flick past Martinez slid just past the right post in the 23rd minute.

Northwest’s best two chances of the first half came late. Chris Tapia missed high on a 28-yard free kick in the 36th minute while Johnson’s Benjamin Villatoro was able to make a save on Fredy Lara’s header off a Tapia feed a minute later. 

The Johnson offense seemed like it was on the verge of breaking out, midway through the second half. In the 67th minute, Martinez was able to thwart a Chavez shot from 5-yards out and a minute later he was able to clear another shot off a Johnson corner. In the 69th minute, Juliann Pimentel and Trujillo both had shots inside the box that Martinez was able to deny.

Meanwhile, Villatoro would finish with five saves for Johnson, including a pair of diving stops in a wild three-minute flurry for the Bruins moments before Trujillo’s dramatic goal.

Northwest (9-8-4) pushed forward against a tired Johnson defense and was able to generate three shots from inside the box including the diving saves made by Villatoro.

“Benji continues to build confidence and improve,” Zamora said of his freshman keeper. “That’s all you can ask at this point playing in such high-pressure games in front of a packed stadium.”

After Trujillo’s goal, the Bruins made one last push but Johnson was able to gain control of the ball and eventually ran out the final 30 seconds to preserve the win.

Johnson's Daniel Trujillo (kneeling) and Miguel Duran (4) celebrate following the Knights' thrilling 1-0 win over Northwest Whitfield on Friday in the Class 4A semifinals at The Dungeon.

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