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Soccer: Florea's double-OT goal lifts Central over No. 1 Lambert
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Forsyth Central seniors Alex Guzman, left, and Andrew Harrington celebrate Friday after the Bulldogs' 1-0 win against Lambert. - photo by David Roberts

Michael Florea knew he was going to get another opportunity. He just didn't know when.

But when his chance came, in the waning minutes of Forsyth Central's double-overtime match against No. 1 Lambert, Florea recognized it for what it was.

Redemption.

"Josh Scharff came in with a brilliant throw," Florea said. "The clearance wasn't the best from white, and when I was on the top of the box, the ball came to me and I'm like, 'I got this.' I've been thinking about this all game. I've had multiple chances. I hit it as well as I could, and luckily enough, it went in and I was able to celebrate with my teammates."

Florea hammered home the game-winning goal with 2:07 left in double overtime, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 win against the top-ranked team in Class 7A.

"I thought our guys defended incredibly well tonight," Central head coach Will Gifford said. "They stayed organized, they got numbers behind the ball, they worked incredibly hard and I felt like that was the difference in the game. Lambert is a really good team, and they're going to beat a bunch of really good teams this year, but our guys just did what was required of them defensively and Florea had a great finish."

The win actually marks Central's second straight victory against Lambert. The Bulldogs handed Lambert a 3-0 defeat last year, the Longhorns' lone loss of the season.

"It means the world, to be honest," Florea said. "Lambert is one of the best teams in the state the past couple years. They won the state championship my freshman year and they won it my sophomore year. Unfortunately last year we had a really good team and we beat Lambert; I would have loved to see what would happen in the playoffs. Going on to beat Lambert and to avenge that COVID season really means a lot to me. I've been thinking about this all season."

Florea's chance arrived after a series of missed opportunities for Central, namely in the opening minutes of the second half when the Bulldogs took two corner kicks and a free kick in the span of two minutes.

Each time, Central forward Alex Guzman targeted Florea. The first two attempts sailed off Florea's head, high of the goal. The third one missed its mark completely. 

"When you miss a chance, you've got to make sure you keep your composure, because you know you're going to get more," Florea said. "If you're in the right mental state and you keep your head up and keep focus, you're going to get more chances off of it."

Central had a chance to take the lead in the 62nd minute when Guzman collided with Lambert keeper Liam Leja inside the box. However, the referees pointed to Leja's possession of the ball in waiving off the penalty kick. 

Friday's match featured a litany of impressive saves by Leja and Forsyth Central keeper Keegan Williford.

Guzman nearly capitalized in the 75th minute, taking an open shot from about 30 yards out, but Leja made a tremendous, one-handed stab to save the shot.

Williford responded three minutes later with a save of his own off a free kick by Jared Carter.

"[Williford] is awesome. He's only a sophomore, but he's a leader," Gifford said. "Our two center backs, Hunter Broome and Andy Guzman, are phenomenal players. Those guys really helped lock down the back, along with Keegan Williford, our goalkeeper."

Guzman pulled his hamstring five minutes into the match and left five minutes into extra time after reaggravating the injury. 

Still, Guzman was a catalyst for Central's offense, creating chances all night for the Bulldogs' forwards.

"I just can't say enough about their work ethic," Gifford said. "They played with great character ... our guys played with great character tonight. They played with a great competitiveness that allowed us to stay in the game and weather the storms that are inevitable when you're playing a team of Lambert's caliber."

Central (5-2, 2-0 Region 6-7A) has won three straight matches and handed South Forsyth its first loss of the season last week with a 4-2 win. The War Eagles were ranked second in the state at the time.

Lambert (3-2, 1-1 Region 6-7A) fell to second-ranked Brookwood earlier this week and will look to rebound Tuesday against Blessed Trinity.

"With how we played against South and Lambert, both respectively No. 2 in the state and No. 1 in the state at the time," Florea said, "I honestly believe we are one of the best teams in the state when it comes to heart, effort and dedication."