COVINGTON, Ga. -- In a tale of two halves performance, Johnson overcame a valiant first half effort from Eastside en route to a convincing 4-0 win in Thursday night’s non-region contest at Sharp Stadium.
And although the final score may have seemed a bit lopsided, Eastside boys coach Champ Young says he saw enough to feel good about how his program is closing the talent gap a bit on a usually solid program.
“We watched the first half, and we’ve played Johnson for the last five years,” Young said. “It’s funny. Some of our older guys who come back to visit, they always ask about this game because it’s the litmus test for the season. We were chatting about how this is the first time it’s ever been 0-0 at halftime. We played them dead-even in the first half.”
The match, indeed, started with Johnson pouncing on Eastside's final third, however, Tristan Aldridge and Tyler Davis held a strong back line, ensuring that the ball wouldn't trouble Eastside keeper Jackson Gann's goal.
Sporting a counter-attack offense, the Eagles relied on deep passes to get into Johnson’s final third.
In perhaps one of the Eagles’ most golden scoring opportunities they’ll see this season, a precise pass over Johnson's back line in the 25th minute saw a Johnson player stranded in front of the goal.
The goalkeeper failed to clear the ball out and Eastside's Kade Mote seemed destined to score, but the ball creeped just wide. It was the Eagles' first sight of the goal in the game, and they wouldn't see another chance for the remainder of the half.
“That goal would’ve changed the whole game,” Young said. “If we would’ve gotten that one, they’d have to come at us.”
Eastside's Jackson Gann made a couple of terrific saves to finish out the first half and did very well to keep the score line even at halftime with Johnson visibly frustrated, having little to show for their attacking efforts.
That score would not hold, however, and Johnson finally capitalized with a clever combination that led to a clinical finish past Gann.
The Panthers then doubled their lead only minutes after. A Johnson corner was placed perfectly at the edge of Eastside's penalty area and the ball was rifled down the middle of the goal with Gann having no time to react.
Yet again, minutes after, Johnson increased its lead to 3-0. A Johnson player struck the ball hard, and there was nothing the Eagles senior goalkeeper could do as it rifled off the post and in.
The final goal of the night game on a ball that ricocheted, on a save, off of Gann’s hands back to where a Johnson player was able to place it in the goal beyond Gann.
“Like I said, first half we were dead even,” Young said. “Second half, you could tell we kinda got tired, and the mistakes kept piling up and the goals started piling up too. But we’ll get better at it.”
Young attributed some of the fatigue to Johnson’s depth.
“Fitness is an issue right now because of our depth right now,” he said. “They go six or seven people on the bench, and we have like two. But things like that will play themselves out as the season goes along.”
The Eagles will have a chance to bounce back Friday night when they host Whitewater.
“Right now it’s still so early,” Young said. “We haven’t played since last Tuesday, so we have some things to work out. It’s a long season, but we’ll be fine.”
Sports editor Gabriel Stovall contributed to this report.