An early goal in a state playoff soccer game can change everything for an underdog.
Forsyth Central ensured that wouldn't be the case against North Gwinnett in a Class 7A state second-round meeting Monday at home.
The No. 1 seed and fifth-ranked host Bulldogs gave up a quick strike to the second-seeded visiting Bulldogs, but Forsyth Central controlled proceedings the rest of the way in a 6-1 victory.
“They caught us off guard,” Forsyth Central head coach Angela Camp admitted in regards to the opening goal. “We had pushed forward and didn’t get back like we were supposed to.
“They knew. We talked about it that they could score on us. They did the last time we played them. So just keep our composure, play our game — I thought we were playing a little bit towards how they play — and if we played the way we know how to play and how we practice all the time that the goals would eventually start falling.”
They certainly did.
Kira Kim and Gabby Volpe responded to the opener with a goal apiece to turn the game around.
It appeared as though Forsyth Central would enter halftime with a 2-1 lead before Avery Berryman slammed home a rebound off an initial shot by Kim. The goal came with just 39 seconds on the clock and served as a gut punch to North Gwinnett, which dropped the teams' regular-season meeting by a 3-1 margin.
“Just having a two-goal lead, as opposed to a one-goal lead, going into halftime gives you a lot more confidence,” Camp said.
North Gwinnett gave itself a couple of opportunities to possibly get back into the game only to see one of the Forsyth Central backline, goalkeeper Marlee McAdam or the line judge thwart the attempted comeback.
“I thought they were really taking it to us,” Camp said of the opening portion of the second half. “We got a little tired and weren’t getting back on defense. They were just booming the ball over the top, running us to death. We settled down a little bit and started working the ball to our feet again.”
The tide started to turn when Berryman began taking over the game in the midfield. The senior Alabama-Birmingham signee distributed the ball to set up chances on the offensive end, while breaking up some potential counterattacks by North Gwinnett.
Eventually, Berryman found space in the middle of the 18-yard box and slotted home the sealing goal in the 69th minute.
“She’s such a leader on the field, off the field by her actions and talking to teammates,” Camp said of Berryman. “She just keeps everybody a little bit calmer when things start to get hectic. She’s able to reel it back and tell everybody to calm down. She’ll feed balls to people and makes the game run so much smoother. It’s always amazing to have her on the field.”
Berryman's second nicely taken goal opened the floodgates late.
Following a few off-target shots and one really strong save by North Gwinnett goalie Kassidy Fortin, Brielle LaBerge found the back of the net with under two minutes remaining. Standout defender Kieryn Jeter even got in on the act, firing home from close range inside the final minute.
It wasn't known at the time whether Forsyth Central (15-3) would play its quarterfinal match at home, where the Bulldogs are undefeated this season. However, it's now been made official that Bulldog Stadium will host the April 24 matchup against Archer — another region champion and the fourth-ranked team in 7A — after the universal coin toss went in Forsyth Central's favor.
“We haven’t scored six goals in a hot minute in a playoff game,” Camp said. “It’s pretty good.”