On Dec. 28th Suwannee and seven other high school teams began play in the Columbia Ft. White Christmas Tournament. Suwannee's first match was with Newberry High. Newberry brought unpleasant memories to the Suwannee team, as in last years game Reggie Johnson suffered a severe leg injury due to the reckless play of the Newberry squad.
The match began on a clear warm afternoon at the Columbia Youth Soccer Association fields. Play was brisk by both squads. Early in the game Billy Moran moved the ball forward from midfield and passed to an advancing J.D. Hales. Hales quickly crossed to the breaking Reggie Johnson, who easily punched a shot into the right side of the net for Suwannee's first score.
Both teams moved the ball but not until midway of the first half was another score made. At that point Suwannee keeper Nathan Moses made a strong punt that carried past midfield. Reggie Johnson headed the ball forward to a speeding Cullen Boggus, who drove the ball toward the keeper and firmly struck Suwannee's second goal into the far side of the net.
Newberry answered very quickly. On the following kick off, a Newberry player on the left side received a pass and successfully slipped a shot behind the Suwannee keeper. With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Newberry was awarded a penalty kick after a throw-in resulted in a foul near the goal. The Newberry player was successful on the kick, tying the score 2-2. Suwannee wasted no time in responding to the tie game. Corey Bridges settled the ball near midfield and sent a pass forward to J.D. Hales. Hales broke free of his man and sped to the goal. The keeper came out and Hales easily booted Suwannees third goal into the lower right hand corner of the empty net. The 3-2 score held up as the half ended.
Play resumed in the second half with Suwannee advancing frequently but not scoring. Ten minutes into the half however Newberry was again awarded a penalty kick after the seemingly untouched Newberry player fell to the turf in the box. The second penalty kick was booted in to tie the score at 3-3.
Once again Suwannee rallied quickly. Reggie Johnson took a corner kick and received an assist as Billy Moran gathered Johnson's kick and angled in Suwannee's fourth and final goal of the day. Suwannee then advanced on its 4-3 victory to play the winner of the Ft. White/Arnold High match.
Suwannee's second game was in the morning on Dec. 29th against Pensacola Arnold.
The Suwannee v. Arnold game proved to be a defensive test for both squads. Neither team was able to mount many serious threats, as both defenses continually thwarted offensive efforts.
Midway through the second half Suwannee finally broke through. J. D. Hales, who entered the game after sitting with an injury for the first half, sent a ball up field, splitting two defenders, to fellow forward Billy Moran. Moran advanced on the breakaway and deftly booted in Suwannee's lone goal of the match. Arnold was never able to pose a serious threat and the game ended in a victory for Suwannee on the single Moran goal. The Bulldogs advanced to the finals to play neighboring rival Columbia County, which had also won both of its matches.
The finals match began at 4 p.m. later that day, with a good crowd assembled to support both teams from Lake City and Live Oak. Suwannee had played Columbia on Columbia's field only a few weeks earlier in regular season play, and had suffered a 4-0 loss. Coach Johnson was disappointed in that loss and looked forward to a rematch.
Unfortunately Columbia again seemed to be in control. Although Suwannee had advances they were unable to capitalize in the first half. Columbia however was able to score midway through the first half on a throw in that was deflected into the top of the net. Suwannee continued to have several good shots on goal stopped by the CHS keeper. Just prior to the half Columbia managed once again to score and took a 2-0 lead into halftime.
That score held up in the second half as Suwannee and Columbia continued to seek goals to no avail. With about 20 minutes left in the game, Columbia advanced up the left side for a goal, taking a commanding 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs however didn't quit. The Suwannee fans urged them on and even though down three goals, their play seemed to rally following Columbia's third goal. With only 15 minutes remaining in the match, Will Posey sent a long ball to the open field. Reggie Johnson gathered the pass, cut behind the Columbia defender and booted a long arching shot over the keeper to finally score for Suwannee. The goal seemed to further invigorate the Suwannee fans and players, even though time was running out.
The energized Suwannee team continued its aggressive play. J.D. Hales, only minutes following Johnsons goal, took the ball at midfield and advanced up the left sideline. He broke free from the Columbia defender and struck a long shot. A Columbia defender tried to deflect the ball just in front of the goal, but the shot glanced off of him and settled into the net for Suwannees second score.
The remaining few minutes saw several advances by the Suwannee squad and a different looking Columbia effort, as they seemed to be just waiting for the end of the game. The last minutes saw a strong shot by Hales just miss the right side of the net, a Moran advance and strong kick collected by the keeper, and finally a last second shot by Reggie Johnson that was deflected by the Columbia keeper. Normally that would result in a corner kick, but the officials cut the play short and ruled that the game was over.
The final score of 3-2 gave Columbia County the championship. Following the match Suwannee was presented with the runner-up trophy. From Suwannee, Billy Moran and Miguel Rodriquez were both named to the All-Tournament Team. Coach Johnson, following the tournament, was pleased with the two days of play overall. He still is looking for more consistency in effort and intensity from his team, and it will really be needed as they approach a demanding January schedule.