DALTON, Ga. - The talent level of the Southeast Whitfield boys' soccer team didn't always equate to the results on the field during the 2013 season, yet in the past week it seems to have come together.
And all it really took was a little yelling.
The ninth-ranked Raiders defeated second-ranked Chestatee and third-ranked Carrollton by a combined score of 10-2 in the Georgia Class AAAA playoffs and then downed Dutchtown 2-0.
Southeast (12-4-1) was the third seed in Region 7 headed into the playoffs, behind top-ranked Dalton and fifth-ranked Northwest Whitfield. Now the Raiders' run toward the state title must go through Northwest's Bruins (16-5) in the state semifinals. The county rivals split matches during the regular season, winning on each other's home field.
They will meet again at 7 tonight at Northwest. Dalton (20-0) plays sixth-ranked Spalding (18-1) in the other semifinal. Three of the final four teams being from the same county means at least one will play for the state title.
"If you go out in the community on a Saturday, Sunday or even some Fridays, all you see is soccer being played," Southeast assistant coach Victor Rodriguez said. "People love, eat and sleep soccer 24/7 here. We've put Southeast on the map, and Dalton has been there. Now that the whole county is in the semifinals, it speaks to all of the talent around here."
Winners of tonight's matches will play for the championship at Kennesaw State at 7 p.m. Friday.
Tonight at 6, Calhoun will play Greater Atlanta Christian in a Class AA semifinal at Gordon Central.
Rodriguez was a member of Southeast's state-runner-up team in 2008. He stepped in last week when head coach Kevin Kettening had to miss due to family issues and led the Raiders to the victories over Carrollton and Dutchtown. Senior Alex Rosillo said there was a familiarity in having Rodriguez on the sideline, as he was more like former head coach Jamison Griffin, who took an administrative position at East Hamilton after 11 years as Southeast's head coach.
Kettenring is more of a calming coach on the sideline, but Rodriguez challenges the players, which was Griffin's style.
"We're used to coaches screaming at us," Rosillo said. "Coach Vic was more like Coach Griffin."
Said Rodriguez: "The guys just lacked intensity. There's a lot of talent on this team, but there were times that we were outplayed and seemed tired. They weren't motivated, but last week I think we picked up the intensity.
"I learned in college that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
As they've been three other times in the playoffs, the Raiders will be the underdogs. That doesn't bother Rosillo.
"It feels great proving people wrong," he said. "The state playoffs are a new season. Northwest will be the toughest match we've played all year -- they're a great team. It's going to be physical, but it's going to be fun. I've been in the state semifinals two other times, so I'm not nervous.
"I've got confidence in my team."