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A 'MANLEY' PERFORMANCE: Late goals by Kevin Manley lift Eastside to pivotal region win over Luella
Eastside soccer
Eastside's Kevin Manley (46) gets congratulated by a host of teammates following one of his second half goals that helped push the fifth-ranked Eagles past a previously undefeated Luella squad. -photo by Sydney Chacon

LOCUST GROVE, Ga. — The No. 5 Eastside Eagles boys soccer team took sole possession of the top spot in Region 4-AAAA with an impressive 4-2 victory Wednesday night over the Luella Lions in a hotly anticipated and pivotal region match.

The goal that would put the Eagles (7-1-1, 4-0 in Region 4-AAAA) over the top came in the second half of play with 28:34 left on the clock. Eastside’s Creighton Goerner was sent in from the corner kick and leftback Kevin Manley was there with a powerful header that sent the ball soaring past the keeper.

Manley would strike again in the second half as he pressed forward from his defending spot. This time he curled in a shot from a tough angle that banged in off the post and found the back of the net.

Eagles head coach Champ Young was pleased with Manley’s efforts and impressed with how he “smoked” his second shot into the goal. While these two difference-making goals came in the second half, the Eagles got the scoring started quickly and early. 

Not even a full three minutes into the match, Jordan Beam fired a shot from outside the box that the Lions’ keeper got his hands on. However, Eagles’ winger Anthony Lee was able to corral the deflection and tap it in for an easy opening goal.

It was a back and forth affair of varying displays of attack as the Lions looked to play it long and get past the Eagles defense, while the Eagles sought to possess the ball and keep it away from Luella star striker Justin Guest.

The Lions would finally break through as they earned a penalty with 5:33 left to play in the first half and Guest powered it past Eagles keeper Jackson Hamby to tie the score up, 1-1. 

It appeared to be heading into a 1-1 halftime score until Goerner found the back of the net with 8.9 seconds left in the first half to give his team a 2-1 lead. 

Young described the goal as a pivotal momentum-boosting, yet calming moment for his team just before the break.

“It was huge, it was huge,” he said. “We definitely were scrambling a little bit (after the PK). Creighton comes back and just puts it away with a lot of effort there, so it was definitely what we wanted going into halftime.”

Guest would strike again not long after the break as he dribbled across the face of the goal and fired the equalizer shot past Hamby. It would be Luella’s final score, however, before Manley’s game-winning, late game heroics. 

Kevin Manley
Eastside's Kevin Manley tries to flip a shot past goal during the Eagles' Wednesday night win at Luella. -photo by Sydney Chacon

Young said that stopping Guest was a major focal point, and although he had two goals, he’s pleased with his team’s efforts.

“I thought we frustrated him a lot,” Young said. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do when we got there, and we bottled him a lot better in the first half. Tristan and Jackson held on very well there at the end. We definitely settled in and did what we were supposed to. I think we gave up two goals we shouldn’t have, but it is what it is.”

With an undefeated record in region play, and wins over arguably the region’s two biggest threats on Eastside’s championship aspirations, Young is proud of where his team is at but knows they have to stay focused if they want to stay there.

Big non-region tests await, beginning with Friday’s match at home against Dawson County and next Tuesday’s hosting of familiar next door neighbor Heritage. 

Eastside’s next region action on the pitch will be against Henry County (4-5, 1-3) on March 21 and then against a Druid Hills squad (3-5-1, 1-0) that defeated the Eagles last year when Eastside was in a similar position.

Young said he wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“Hopefully it stays that way,” he said. “We were in this spot last year though, and we ended up losing to Druid and we didn’t win (a region title), so that’s the goal right now.”