Packer soccer advances to Elite 8 - makes history

Apr. 25—MOULTRIE — Just inches before crossing the goal line, Packer athlete Uziel Garcia-Diaz stopped what appeared to be a surefire goal for the Pebblebrook Falcons, which would have tied the playoff game.

With 10 minutes, 30 seconds left in the Sweet Sixteen round of the state tournament, Packer goalkeeper Wilson Hulett ran out in an attempt to dive on the ball at the feet of a Falcon player.

Realizing what was happening, the Pebblebrook athlete knocked the ball around Hulett as he hit the ground; a collective gasp could be heard from all spectators — it appeared the Falcons would score.

Popping out of the chaotic kaleidoscope of athletes, Garcia-Diaz became the sole player in the penalty box as the ball rolled at what seemed a glacial speed toward the goal.

Extending out his leg, Garcia-Diaz changed the trajectory of the ball with the toes of his foot, and instead of going into the back of the net it rolled out of bounds.

The roar that emanated from the Packer's portion of the bystanders was deafening as the athletes on the field ran to Garcia-Diaz, surrounding him in celebration.

For the remainder of the game, both teams would battle fiercely; however, neither team would score a goal in those final minutes.

The Packer varsity soccer team defeated the Pebblebrook Falcons, who traveled to Packer Park from Mableton, 1-0.

For the first time in the program's history, the Packers have reached the Elite 8 in the state tournament.

"It was important that we took the advantage early in the game," said assistant coach Marcus Lopez. "We did just that."

Multiple athletes worked together so that the Packers could hold the upper ground over the Falcons.

With 7:22 left before halftime, a Falcons player committed an infraction which resulted in an indirect kick for the Packers.

About halfway between midfield and goal, on the right side, the Packers set up their play.

With indirect kicks another player, from either team, must touch the ball before a goal can be scored.

If the ball touches the back of the net before this happens, then the goal is void.

Satisfying this rule, Alexis Villeda ran up to the ball, but rather than put it in play with a long pass downfield, he simply tapped it with his foot.

Following behind Villeda was Christian Mata, who sent the ball upfield like a rocket.

Blocking the shot, but unable to keep it in his possession, the Pebblebrook goalkeeper scrambled.

Christian Nunez was ready and waiting.

Knocking the ball past the goalkeeper with a quick, precision kick, Nunez had the final touch in a well organized collaboration to put the Packers on the scoreboard.

Smiles were on the faces of all Packer athletes as they celebrated and ran back to their side of the field to set up so play could continue.

Though no more shots would be successful, there were several Packers who took a chance on goal, including: Hudson Glenn, Joshua Ramirez, Dierick Espinoza and Bryan Ortiz.

"We have a young midfield," said Lopez. " But, they play hard and are good at winning those 50-50 balls."

In one such occasion, Packer Edgar Contreras, after the ball was sent upfield in a high arching kick, beat the Pebblebrook player to the ball with a backwards headbutt, placing the ball perfectly in front of Mata, who was running upfield.

Defensively, the Packers kept a solid formation to keep the Falcons from scoring.

"They have been playing together for so long ," said Lopez. "Wilson had some great saves, and the back line just understands each other — we have one of the best back lines in the state."

Goalkeeper Hulett blocked a total of 18 shots, several which required last minute full body dives and utilizing the defenders to help him cover the line.

Netalm Garcia, Glenn, Bennett Goss, Nunez, Garcia-Diaz, Ortiz and Contreras were some of the players who assisted in removing the ball from the goalie box.

As the final buzzer sounded and the 80 minutes of play was concluded, emotions were extremely high.

The Packers, who had just officially advanced to the Elite 8 in the state tournament, immediately burst into cheers of excitement.

Those in the dugout sprinted to their teammates on the field and everyone celebrated as a unit in front of the bleachers.

"Seeing them make this accomplishment is amazing," said Lopez. "They worked so hard turning training, and it's paying off."

Round four of the state tournament will take place on Tuesday, April 30, at Packer Park.

Facing the Kennesaw Mountain Mustangs, who went 4-1 in their region and placed second, this game will determine which team will advance to the Final Four.

Kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.