It was not a certainty that Alex Guzman was going to be on the field for Forsyth Central late in the game.
Guzman tweaked his hamstring last week and aggravated the injury again early in the first round of the state tournament against Dunwoody on Wednesday.
But late in the game, Guzman came back in, streaked down the field and scored the only goal in the game to give Central the 1-0 victory to advance to the second round of the Class 7A playoffs.
“Guzman’s presence was critical,” Central coach Will Gifford said. “Obviously, Alex wasn’t 100 percent tonight, but the kind of competitor he is forced his way back into the game. I wasn’t gonna put him back in but he begged saying ‘Coach. Put me in.’ We talked it over and decided we’d give him five minutes to see how he felt.”
After several shots on goal resulted in no scoring, Cody Moncrief received possession in the 76th minute of the game off a missed Dunwoody corner.
“I dribbled past one kid and saw Alex making the run,” Moncrief said. “He’s just such a good player, so I knew he was going to put it in the goal.
Gifford said that there were plenty more guys other than Guzman who were banged up throughout Wednesday’s game, but Guzman’s awareness is what won the game for Central without having to go into overtime.
“We’ve been instilled since freshman year to play for one another,” Guzman said. “Compete for something greater than self. It’s the culture that we bring. I wouldn’t do it for any other school, any other team or for any other guys.”
Gifford said he thought Dunwoody outworked his team to start the game. However, his defensive line and goalie Keegan Williford continued to steal the ball away from Dunwoody without receiving a foul.
“The back line has been outstanding all year long,” Gifford said. “Every single game. They’ve been rock solid since the first game of the year. Those guys set the tone in terms of organization. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Other than Guzman’s goal, both Joshua Scharff and Ethan Rausch took multiple shots on goal that just could not get past Dunwoody's keeper. Gifford said that once he saw his team playing together, he knew they would be in a position to win the game.
“We have 10 seniors on this team and every one of them brings something special to the team,” Gifford said. “We’ve had incredible leadership all year. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the game, but I knew we were going to have the competitive spirit to win the game.”
Central’s victory advances the Bulldogs to the final 16 teams in the Class 7A state tournament, where they will host Collins Hill on Tuesday. Gifford said that Central truly provides a home-field advantage against any opponent they play.
“It’s awesome playing here,” Gifford said. “We’ve had such great fans ... a super-educated group. Our region games have been highly attended and the boys feed off that. They’ve earned the right to play a second playoff game at home.”
Gifford added that he wants to see his team start quicker in their second-round matchup.
“It only gets harder here,” Gifford said. “It’s only the best teams that are left.”