After more than four hours of soccer, Athens and East Limestone were still deadlocked during the second round of last season’s boys Class 5A playoffs. The two soccer powers split games during the regular season and were tied once again in the postseason. Only sudden-death penalty kicks would finally send East Limestone to the state tournament where they lost in the semifinals.
Another Class 5A Section 8 title is on the line tonight when the two rivals meet in Athens. After East Limestone earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory in the first meeting between the teams, Athens will look to even the score at home tonight.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Athens coach Ron Oakley. “I thought we played pretty well that first game. They are a good quality team, so we know we’ll have to take advantage of every opportunity we have. It will be a fun night.”
The team’s first meeting on March 23 was indicative of how close the series has been lately. East midfielder Mitchell Mathis struck a bouncing ball from 35 yards out that dipped just under the bar for the game’s only goal. Athens had more shots on target and dominated the possession late in that first meeting, but was denied time and again by East goalie Justin Walker.
“We know we have to convert a couple more of attacking opportunities and not ask Justin (Walker) to make so many saves,” East Limestone coach Danny McConnell said. “We’re going to try to keep possession more. We try not to change too much, but our guys will definitely know where their key players are at all times.”
Both teams will have their eyes focused on the opposing attacking threats. For Athens, Ramon Jurado and Christopher Gregory have combined for 19 goals while East freshman Dilan Sayer has scored 22 goals this season.
Athens and East will kick off from Athens High School with the girls game at 5 p.m. followed by the boys.