DALTON, Ga. — Coming off an emotional, physically draining weekend, the Dalton High School boys' soccer team was ripe for the upset, and visiting Baylor came into Harmon Field more than willing to play the spoiler.
The Catamounts, fresh off defeating three nationally ranked teams to win the Smoky Mountain Cup over the weekend (including McCallie in the final) entered Tuesday's "friendly" match riding a 78-game unbeaten streak and sitting atop USA Today's national soccer rankings.
The Red Raiders, though, didn't seem to care, taking 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first half on goals from Victor Ulmo and Gabriel Zambello. However, Dalton scored late in the half to tie the game and tallied three goals in the final nine minutes of the game to pull out a 5-2 win.
"We were concerned about this one coming off the tournament," Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. "After something like that it's easy to come out and be flat. We need something to play for, and with this being a friendly there were no playoff implications. But then again, this is Baylor, a great program and a very well-coached soccer team. We definitely had to take it seriously."
Baylor (2-4-1) had a defensive game plan centered on making sure Dalton's electric playmaker, Isai Hernandez, would not get any free runs. The strategy worked early as the Catamounts tried to force things offensively.
The Red Raiders scored on a free kick from Ulmo 12 minutes in and later on Zambello's header off a deflected free kick. The goals clearly frustrated Cheaves.
"We keep giving up restart goals," he said. "Sometimes we make fouls on plays we don't need to make, being too aggressive on plays that really weren't dangerous. Tonight we gave a guy a chance to score from 25 yards out, and he hit a perfect shot. On the second one we were just a little out of position."
Dalton (13-0-1) tied the game at 2 off its own corner kick when Jimmy Cano headed in a rebound with under a minute to play.
The Catamounts controlled play most of the second half but couldn't complete possessions. That all changed with nine minutes to play when forward Justen Macias found open space down the left side of the field.
The senior was briefly halted by a Baylor defender but kept possession in the box and squeezed his shot just inside Baylor keeper Cannon Kelly for a 3-2 Dalton lead.
"They opened up space for us to start moving the ball more, and it led to two quick goals," said Macias, who also scored the team's first goal when he headed in a rebound. "It was just a breakaway and I saw the open goal and took the opportunity to shoot. That pumped us up and led us to victory. "
Just over three minutes later, junior Churrui Huitanda scored on a near mirror-image play, streaking down the left side and using his fantastic ball skills to get a Baylor defender off balance before slipping a shot past Kelly. Cano scored the game's final goal three minutes later to complete a half in which the Cats outshot the Raiders 12-1.
"We grew up with some of these players and they knew how we play," Macias said. "It was a tough game and they came out here planning to end our streak, but thankfully we ended up with the victory."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22.