Head coach Will Gifford didn't need to remind the Forsyth Central boys soccer team of the meaning of its game Thursday night at West.
The Bulldogs' 4-1 win didn't clinch anything, but it made it much easier for Central to do so. With a 2-5 record in region play and a loss to West already to their name heading into the night, another defeat to the Wolverines would have made a playoff berth not impossible, but very unlikely.
The win means that Central can only stop itself now. The Bulldogs are headed for a possible three-way tie with West and Milton in the region standings, but with the margin of Thursday's win, Central leads the Wolverines on aggregate and has the tiebreaker. The Bulldogs now just have to beat North Forsyth, whom they topped 4-0 back on Feb. 27, to virtually lock up a playoff spot.
"I try not to make too big of a deal about it," Gifford said. "But everybody knew, coming into this game, how important it was in terms of region standings."
Central was also fueled by the brutal nature of its loss at home in the teams' first matchup of the season. The Bulldogs led by a goal at the beginning of the second half and, after a red card, were playing a man up, but they couldn't close the game out, ending extra time tied at 3-3 and losing in penalty kicks.
The Bulldogs (7-6-1, 3-5 Region 5-7A) didn't let the game get that close on Wednesday. Uriel Romero opened the scoring roughly 15 minutes into the game by finishing a cross from Vinny Pinheiro, and with 4:10 left in the first half, Sergio Moreira scored to the near post on a free kick from about 20 yards out. Romero scored again less than four minutes into the second half, firing in a strike to the far post, and 10 minutes later, he had a shot deflect off the goalkeeper towards Gavin Mitchell, who finished easily for the fourth goal.
Two of those goals, and multiple other opportunities, came from Pinheiro and Romero applying defensive pressure to either wing.
"Me and Vinny were (trying) to play together and look for each other," Romero said.
The odds look to be tilted heavily towards Central against North, but Gifford made sure after the game to emphasize that there's still no guarantee, even there.
"Remember," he said to the players gathered around him. "You have so much to play for."
West fell to 4-10, 3-6 with the loss.