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Soccer: War Eagles down top-ranked South Gwinnett to reach state title
Dino Stavros, right, celebrates with his teammates Tuesday during the War Eagles' 2-1 win against South Gwinnett. Photo by Lily McGregor Photography

SNELLVILLE — South Forsyth’s run as a No. 4 seed in the Class 7A boys soccer playoffs continued Tuesday night with a victory over the state’s top-ranked team.

The fifth-ranked War Eagles rebounded from an early deficit with a second-half goal to force overtime, then got a game-winner in the first extra period for a 2-1 victory that sends them to the state finals and a rematch with second-ranked Lambert. Dino Stavros had the game-winning goal and an assist on South Forsyth’s first goal.

“They’ve been resilient all year,” South Forsyth head coach Chere Thomas said. “Our motto all year is don’t be outworked. I really feel we took that to the extreme today against an excellent team, an excellent team. It about brings tears to my eyes how much my boys left it all on the field tonight. I can’t be more proud of them. We’ve got one more game to go.”

While South Forsyth (14-3) advanced to the state finals, South Gwinnett (15-4-2) suffered a painful finish to the best season in school history.

“They made history, the farthest the school’s ever been in the 64 years it’s been open,” South Gwinnett head coach Christian Vasquez said. “It’s a sour end because we feel like we deserve to be in the finals, but hats off to South Forsyth. They’re a great team. Soccer can be loving, but just as cruel at the same time. These boys have to learn that stuff happens in life and soccer and they’ve got to come back stronger.”

The Comets took a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute, when Sekou Agard played a ball into the box to his brother Kadeem, who converted for a goal that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.

The advantage held until the 65th minute, when Stavros’ great work on the left side set up his charge into the penalty box, where he slipped a pass in front to Jose Ventura. Ventura left no doubt on the equalizer.

South Forsyth nearly got the game-winner with 10 seconds left in regulation on a blasted volley by Patrick Kelly, but Comets goalkeeper Eric Calvillo made a leaping save as the shot headed for the upper 90. It was a common theme of the night as the athletic Calvillo, a forward turned goalkeeper out of necessity in the preseason, made several highlight-reel saves.

One came early in the first OT period, when Kelly’s header also appeared headed into the upper 90 when Calvillo jumped and punched it wide of the goal. He wasn’t as fortunate at the midway point of the first extra period when Kelly’s corner kick found the head of Stavros, whose strong header was the game-winner.

South Forsyth held the Comets off for the rest of the first OT and throughout a largely uneventful second OT, setting up an all-Forsyth County final with region champion Lambert.

The two team also met in the 2018 state championship, with Lambert winning 3-2.

“Coming in [to the playoffs] as a four seed, I told the boys all year I felt like we had the toughest region in the state,” Thomas said. “I think that’s been apparent with three out of the top four teams from our region in [the Final Four]. I think that’s helped us to be playing in that region. We took our bumps and bruises early. I think it helped us as far as getting prepared for this type of atmosphere and this type of game.”