Lambert held off Central Gwinnett 2-1 to advance to the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs Friday for the first time since 2013.
Lambert’s Eoin Griffiths displayed some individual brilliance when he took on the Central defense and chipped the goalkeeper from 20 yards out to put the Longhorns (13-4-1, 9-1 in Region 5-7A) up 1-0 with 23:50 remaining in the first half.
Later in the first half, moments after Lambert didn’t receive a penalty at the other end of the pitch, Gabe Fontana was called for a questionable foul in the box on the Black Knights’ Jonathan Lamarre, giving Central (7-11, 3-3 in Region 7-7A) a penalty kick. Eric Garcia tucked the PK in the bottom left corner to tie the score at 1-1 with 13:10 remaining in the first half.
But the Longhorns responded quickly. And once again it was Griffiths.
This time Griffiths found the back of the net with a laser from 30 yards out that deflected off the keeper’s hands and into the top of the goal, putting Lambert up 2-1.
“The last three years we’ve gone out in the first round, so it’s a good hurdle for us to get over moving forward,” Griffiths said. “We knew it’d be difficult, but we just came out here and did our best. Luckily we got two goals in the first half, and we were able to defend in the second half and bring out the win.”
In the second half this game got very physical as each of these teams were fighting for their playoff lives.
“Playoffs always get tense,” Griffiths said. “There’s seniors on the other team. They don’t wanna lose, they don’t want their season to be over. So it tends to get a little rough, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
These two teams combined for 21 fouls in the game. Lambert was given two yellow cards, while Central Gwinnett received one yellow card, and with just seconds remaining in the game Eric Arevalo was sent off with a straight red card.
“It’s the playoffs,” Lamber head coach Chris Wilson said. “Both teams want to win so you’re gonna have that going on. Fortunately, we had a good referee who called it instead of letting it go. Sometimes they can let it go and it can get dangerous and I don’t think it got dangerous tonight. Maybe at the end, but I don’t think the kid meant anything malicious with the tackle.”
The Longhorns will play the winner of Tift County and Hillgrove in the second round of the state playoffs.
“In our region all the teams kind of look alike,” Wilson said. “We try to play good, possession soccer and when you go out of region it’s good to play these other teams. So getting passed a Gwinnett team whose played other good Gwinnett teams, if we can compete with them, we can compete with anybody.”