MACON, Ga. — Penalty kick shootouts are often criticized as an improper way to end a soccer match, and Johns Creek girls felt its full effect at the Class AAAAAA state championship game Saturday. Though Johns Creek played five full playoff matches and two overtime periods without surrendering a goal, their hopes of the program’s first state championship was dealt a fatal blow when the Lady Gladiators fell to Harrison 4-2 in the shootout after a scoreless game.
Johns Creek was making its first appearance in the state championship game against Harrison, a program rich with title experience, having played in five state championship matches and garnering two state titles in the past six seasons.
But Johns Creek did not appear phased on the field, and it became obvious throughout the game that the true deciding factor would be which defense would falter. The answer was neither.
Harrison and Johns Creek entered the match with neither having allowed a goal in their previous four playoff games. Officially, the state championship score will show Johns Creek as giving up a goal, but both teams continued their shutout streaks through the game as neither team surrendered a goal during regulation or two 5-minute overtime periods.
Both teams had scoring chances throughout the game, but stout defensive performance from both sides kept quality scoring chances to a minimum.
Suzy Steel, the Lady Gladiators goalkeeper, had multiple saves early in the second half and Harrison came out of halftime with an advantage in possession.
After Harrison’s initial flurry of chances, the Lady Gladiators settled in. The teams exchanged chances throughout the second half and the two five-minute overtime periods, but the stalemate continued.
Penalty kicks would decide the state championship.
Harrison set the tone for the shootout with a goal on their first attempt. Steel made a dive to her right but the shot went just over her fingertips.
Johns Creek’s first attempt went off the right post.
Steel again made the correct lateral movement on Harrison’s second shot, but the shot went through her fingers and into the net to put Harrison up 2-0.
Johns Creek answered with a goal and Harrison put a shot off the crossbar to keep the Lady Gladiators’ chances alive.
Both teams converted on their next attempts but a save on Johns Creek’s fourth shot gave Harrison the opportunity to win the state championship with one more conversion.
With the title on the line, Harrison scored on a low shot in the left side of the net to win the shootout 4-2 and capture its third championship in seven years.
It was a heartbreaking end to what had been the most successful season to date for Johns Creek. The team captured the program’s first region championship and had not advanced beyond the first round of the state playoffs since 2012. The Lady Gladiators also set a program-best overall record this season by finishing 17-4-2.
This success stems from Mary Byrne’s first season at the helm in what Johns Creek fans will undoubtedly hope is a sign of things to come.