LIVE OAK — For nearly 60 minutes Friday night, Suwannee High couldn’t solve Wakulla keeper Sebastian Gaffney.
However, when C.J. Joyner finally found the net in the 57th minute, the gates opened and the Bulldogs charged through for a 3-1 win and the program’s first district championship since 2012.
“It’s so surreal,” Suwannee coach Chris Joyner said of the district title. “We were flat and they were taking it to us.
“But I just kept telling the boys to relax, to calm down and play their game…I’m just so proud of all of these boys, they never quit.”
The Bulldogs, the top seed in the District 2-4A tournament that was held at Langford Stadium, came out sluggish in the title bout against the War Eagles (16-3-1).
Suwannee couldn’t capitalize on a handful of scoring opportunities in the first half and the start of the second.
Gaffney played a part in, making a couple dazzling saves, including one on Ian Willis in the 63rd minute that kept the game tied at 1.
“That one was just awesome, I don’t even know how he saw it,” Chris Joyner added about Gaffney. “It was curving right in here in this front pocket and he just turned and boop. What can you say? You just have to tell the keeper that was a great save.”
With Gaffney keeping the Bulldogs (11-3-6) at bay, the War Eagles grabbed the lead in the 27th minute when the Bulldogs knocked a corner kick in their own goal past Zach Lopez, who made seven saves for SHS.
“Set pieces have been our nemesis,” Chris Joyner said. “They’ve been kicking our butt all year long.”
After intermission, the Bulldogs regrouped and refocused. SHS controlled play throughout the second half and kept applying pressure on Gaffney and the War Eagles’ defense.
That only intensified after C.J. Joyner’s tying goal, which he scooted past a charging Gaffney.
Less than a minute after Gaffney’s diving save on Willis’ shot, the Bulldogs grabbed the lead when Yimmy Alvarez scored off a corner kick.
Suwannee then tacked on an insurance goal in the 90th minute when Oscar Rodriguez headed a ball into the net off another corner.
“We came out with a vengeance,” Chris Joyner said. “I think the ball was on their side pretty much the entire second half we just kept chiseling away, chiseling away.
“I told them, ‘Once you get one boys, it won’t be long and you’ll get another one.’ We kept going and kept going.”
“That’s what I love about this team is just their moxie, their poise, just everything about them. I just hope it continues on into Wednesday.”
— Chris Joyner
Suwannee will be back at Langford Stadium on Wednesday, hosting a regional quarterfinal. The opponent will be a familiar one, as the FHSAA regional brackets released Sunday have Wakulla returning to Langford Stadium again.