DALTON, Ga. - The Dalton soccer team squandered plenty of opportunities Wednesday that would have turned their Class AAAA state second-round playoff game with Johnson into a blowout. Yet they made just enough shots to advance.
The top-ranked Catamounts scored a pair of first-half goals but had to hold off the fourth-ranked Knights 2-1 to advance to the state quarterfinals. It was a good night in general for Region 7-AAAA, as fifth-ranked Northwest Whitfield defeated No. 2 Chestatee 4-1, while ninth-ranked Southeast Whitfield beat No. 3 Carrollton 6-1.
The Catamounts (19-0) will host Jonesboro on Saturday. They made their living Wednesday evening countering the Knights' pressure. The visitors employed a physical style of play and used a couple of defenders to shadow Dalton scoring stalwart Ramiro Huitanda.
"We needed that type of game," Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. "We couldn't do what we wanted to do, but a good team won't let you do what you want to do. We needed a game that we had to fight until the end."
Johnson (14-3-2) had the first solid opportunity, but Alan Pantaleon had a diving non-keeper save. Moments later, the Catamounts got on the board on a goal by Javier Rodriguez, assisted by an Eder Mora throw-in. Mora had what he thought was a goal 45 seconds earlier on a throw-in, but the referees ruled that nobody had touched the ball prior to it going in.
In the 33rd minute, Huitanda missed a penalty kick, but three minutes later, Dalton countered a Johnson attack and Ryan Czyz scored, with an assist from Jose Plaza.
The Knights cut the lead in half when Jonathan Mendoza scored. They continued to apply pressure and had a few opportunities in the box, but the Dalton defense -- which has given up eight goals in 19 matches -- held strong.
It was the first match all season in which the margin of victory for the Catamounts wasn't multiple goals.
"I thought we played a heck of a match," Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. "We took them out of their element, and I thought we played well.
"We have nothing to be down about. This is a great match for us to build on and we have a lot to be proud of."
Southeast (11-4-1) will travel to Dutchtown Saturday, while Northwest (15-5) will travel to Mary Persons.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.