LIVE OAK — Heading into Tuesday’s District 2-4A semifinal, Chris Joyner told his Suwannee Bulldogs to expect a physical battle.
The Rickards Raiders provided just that, but the Bulldogs heeded their coach’s orders and grinded out a 3-1 win at Langford Stadium. Suwannee hosts Wakulla at 7 p.m. Friday for the district title.
“I just told the boys in the locker room before we even started, ‘Man, we just got to grind it. Let’s go out there and just play and let’s just be the better team tonight,’” Joyner said. “It’s district playoffs, so it doesn’t matter what the seeding is or the ranking is.
“They’re playing to play one more game.”
Trailing 1-0 after an early Jonah Wegner goal for Suwannee, the Raiders (9-10) got an equalizer midway through the second half.
Rickards junior Jean Baptiste-Lamango’s header off a throw in reached the net to tie it at 1.
“I tell the boys every time you just have to be composed,” Joyner said. “They’re going to score a goal. It’s how we react after that.
“I was proud of my boys. They didn’t get their heads down. They kept battling. They did everything they were supposed to do.”
That poise and composure was put on display in a hurry.
After a water break, it took Suwannee (10-3-6) less than a minute to score the go-ahead goal as C.J. Joyner drilled a low shot just inside the right post.
The Bulldogs then tacked on an insurance goal about seven minutes later when Joyner found Jase Kelley in between a pair of Rickards defenders.
In the first half, SHS needed just seven minutes to seize the lead when Wegner scored on a header off a corner kick from Joyner.
“A lot of people may not want to hear this, but I’ve got the best goalie in North Florida. I’m sorry. He’s got a great four-man front in front of him, but he’s unbelievable in between the sticks.”
— SHS coach Chris Joyner on keeper Zach Lopez, who made eight saves Tuesday
The Bulldogs and War Eagles met one time during the regular season when Suwannee used one goal in each half to top host Wakulla 2-0. Joyner and Wegner netted those goals for the Bulldogs. It was one of just two losses for Wakulla this season.
As tough as Suwannee’s win was Tuesday, Wakulla had to put forth extra effort to down Santa Fe to reach to the title game. It took a shootout for the War Eagles to win after the two teams played to a 1-1 tie through the overtime periods. Wakulla won the shootout 4-2.