SUWANEE — South Forsyth’s season came to a close in a gritty 3-1 loss at North Gwinnett on Wednesday in the first round of the Class 6A state soccer tournament.
The loss ends a string of playoff success for a War Eagles’ team that had reached the quarterfinals and second round of the playoffs the previous two seasons, respectively.
"This senior class definitely left a mark on our program," said South coach Tom Braun. "We’ve been able to compete against much bigger schools and make playoff runs."
After a sluggish start for South, senior forward Kameron Tauber headed home a loose ball in the box to tie the score, 1-1, with 8:15 to play in the first half. But North Gwinnett’s John Arndt scored two second-half goals, including the clincher on a breakaway with 1:15 left.
The Bulldogs advance to face Berkmar in the second round.
South, playing its first game of the season on grass, took a while to get its footing. North took advantage, controlling the early action, winning the midfield and threatening often. The vast majority of the first 10 minutes of the game was played in South territory.
Senior goalie Kyler Kelsey’s diving save on a hard volley from North’s Brian Norton at the top of the box kept the game scoreless nine minutes in. A few minutes later, fullback Matteo Valente got in the way of another North opportunity.
The attacks kept coming and momentum was completely on the Bulldogs’ side after Christian Zapata scored off a right to left cross from James Lee.
The War Eagles answered back five minutes later. North goalie Max Smith got caught out of the goal, and Tauber corralled a bouncing ball and put it in the left corner of the net to tie the game.
South was energized coming out of halftime. Senior forward Efrain Canedo generated multiple scoring opportunities with some nifty ball-handling. The War Eagles couldn’t convert, though, and proved to be vulnerable to counter attacks.
Arndt, one of three North Gwinnett sophomore starters, got free in the box and headed in the go-ahead goal with 31:13 to play.
The War Eagles upped the offensive pressure, but saw shots sail wide and over the goal posts. Eventually, South got caught pushing up, and North countered with a 3-on-1 breakaway. Norton’s right to left cross found a streaking Arndt, who beat Kelsey with a ball in the upper right corner of the net for the clincher.
The pitch was worn from recent action, but held up well. Braun downplayed the impact the field had and didn’t have an answer for his team’s slow start.
"After we woke up after the first 25 minutes and spotted them a goal, it was pretty much an even game," Braun said. "We just looked liked we were sleeping.
"The future for this program is bright. We have a very good JV team and a bunch of young kids. We expect to be back."