TUNNEL HILL, Ga. - A combined four losses to rivals Northwest Whitfield and Dalton during the regular season put Southeast Whitfield in the region's third slot heading into the GHSA Class AAAA state playoffs.
After Wednesday night, they've put one of those rivals in their rear-view mirror. To win a state championship, they'll have to chop down another one.
The Raiders scored twice in overtime to defeat the Bruins 2-0 in the state semifinals, and set up an all-Whitfield County final as they will take on Dalton in Friday's championship at Kennesaw State University at 7:30. The Catamounts defeated Spalding 7-0 in another semifinal.
For senior Alex Rosillo, it's a dream come true after two state semifinal losses in his career.
"I bet nobody thought we'd go this far. That's for sure," he said. "People thought we'd lose to Carrollton in the second round, but we won. I bet now they're shocked, but I'm not shocked at all -- I knew we could do this."
The match against the Bruins on Wednesday wasn't an easy one. The two teams battled to a scoreless tie in regulation. Possession was about even, as Southeast controlled the ball in the midfield, while Northwest (16-6) tried to counterattack through clearances from the defense to the forwards over the top.
Opportunities were rare, too. The teams combined for a total of eight shots on goal. Southeast's Erik Salaises put an open header over the crossbar towards the end of regulation, but he got a sort of vindication in the first overtime, serving the free kick that teammate Alex Garcia slid and got a foot on, punching it past Northwest keeper Miguel Deanda right before the buzzer sounded.
Rosillo then assisted Victor Garcia for a goal in the second overtime, but the Raiders lost captain Jorge Hurtado to a red card in the final minutes and will probably be without him Friday against Dalton.
"This match could have gone either way," Southeast coach Kevin Ketterling said. "We knew we had to be the first to score in overtime, and it was a momentum builder once we did. I thought the course of play was a lot of punch-counterpunch, but we won and we're going to have fun Friday."
For Northwest, the dream season came to an end. Last season the team advanced to the state quarterfinals. They made it a step further and had some opportunities in each half to put one across.
"I'm disappointed in the outcome, but not the kids," Northwest coach Ryan Scoggins said. "Both teams laid it all on the line, but we had a great season, and I'm proud of the guys.
"To make it to the Final Four is a tremendous accomplishment."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.