It was not the cleanest header of Lorenzo Betti's career. The South Forsyth junior forward knew that he had to get to the cross that Andrew Shah swung in from the left, and while Betti did that, he redirected the ball straight into the ground.
However, the ball bounced off the turf towards an area of the goal unoccupied by North Gwinnett keeper Ben Brink. Brink made an effort at the ball and even got a hand on it, but he couldn't prevent it from bouncing into the left side of the net.
"I was just at the right place, right time," Betti said.
The goal gave South a 1-0 lead with just over 26:20 minutes to play in the first-round state playoff matchup. The War Eagles just had to hold on, and while the Bulldogs severely stressed South's defense, Betti's goal wound up deciding the final margin and sending South forward.
The tally was the first major action in what had been an evenly-played match in the first half and early second half, with South holding most of possession but neither team finding a hole in the opposing defense.
And for the War Eagles, Betti's goal wound up being their last serious look at goal. North Gwinnett shifted hard towards offense, putting four players at the front of their formation. It was a difficult task for South, but given that War Eagles had mostly played close, low-scoring matches throughout the season, it wasn't an unfamiliar one.
"Considering that I don't have any natural strikers in my program – I have all defenders – we find a way to win," South head coach Tom Braun said. "That's all that matters, is finding a way to win."
The Bulldogs sent multiple balls into the middle of the box, and one move forward even saw them work the ball around South goalkeeper Aarnav Sandhu, forcing Carter Mason to make a goal-line clearance.
With just under nine minutes to play, Mateo Mejia hit a free kick that flew lust over the crossbar. Shortly after that, Sam Cronin hit a volley to the lower right corner, and Sandhu made a diving save.
South (16-3-1) preserved the shutout, though, and advanced to face Norcross on the road next Wednesday. And the War Eagles' seniors aren't the only members of the team facing a potential end to their careers: Braun is retiring after this school year, and with South's girls out of the playoffs, the boys team is the only thing keeping his high school coaching career going.
Braun isn't giving that issue much thought, though.
"I just want to keep going with these kids," he said. "I do it for these kids."