War Eagles soccer team finishes runner-up in state finals

Senior Deon Hill (No. 13) holds up the War Eagles’ second place trophy after the state championship game as his team carries him. Despite falling in the championship game, 7-0, the War Eagles finished an incredible 18-2-1 season to earn state runner-up this season.  

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Brandon Bush

brandon@msgr.com

 

After a fantastic season and playoff run, the War Eagles’ success came to an end last Friday.

The Putnam County boys soccer team competed in the GHSA Class AA state championship game at Mercer University on Friday, May 11, where it was defeated by Benedictine Military School, 7-0. Despite a hard defeat in the championship game, the Eagles finished an incredible 18-2-1 season in 2018 as the state runners-up.

Prior to the championship game, Putnam had only one loss and one, tie meaning that nobody had defeated the Eagles since a Feb. 17 loss to Upson-Lee. Putnam had done nothing but win since its Feb. 28 tie with First Presbyterian Day School during the Viking Cup Tournament, which the Eagles won for the second consecutive year this season.

Putnam County had a tough road to get to the state championship; after winning all six region games it played this year, Putnam hosted Gordon Central, Spencer High School and Harlem High School before traveling to face Model High School in the semi-final round. Putnam was able to overcome the challenges it faced, however, as the War Eagles took Gordon Central to penalty kicks and won even after trailing by a goal against both Spencer and Harlem.

Last Monday’s semi-final trip to Rome was the third time this school year a PCHS team had a playoff game at Model. The boys soccer team was the first of those three teams to win at Model, overcoming the Blue Devils despite the long trek across the state. Unfortunately for Putnam, it was set up for a match with a team unlike any it’s faced this season.

Competing in Region 2-AA, the Benedictine Military School Cadets finished the year 18-3-1 with the state championship victory to cap off an impressive season of their own. After beginning the season on a weak 1-3 start, the Cadets shut out 10 consecutive opponents and, with the exception of an April 11 tie with Glynn Academy, did not miss a beat all the way to their crushing victory over the War Eagles.

The Cadets went to work almost immediately, scoring their first goal of the afternoon in under two minutes. At 35:26, a second goal from Benedictine already made things look bleak for Putnam’s great season as it trailed, 2-0.

An underappreciated, yet critical, member of Putnam’s 2018 team, goalkeeper Victor Hernandez, took a shot on Benedictine’s third goal in the game and had to be carted off the field. Diego Sanchez, the War Eagles’ leading scorer this season, was also hit hard around the 15-minute mark in the first half but returned to the game.

Although the Cadets had the upper hand from the moment the game kicked off, several elements of Mercer’s Five Star Stadium could have affected the Eagles. For example, the field was made of turf rather than natural grass which Putnam has rarely had to play on this season. The smoldering heat in Macon that day was also unlike the usual warm weather of Eatonton, according to Putnam soccer coach Mark Silva.

“I’m not one to make excuses, but [Benedictine] plays on AstroTurf and in heat like this,” Silva said about the conditions of the game. “The combination of the heat and the field was just crazy, so the kids got a little winded. Overall, [Benedictine] was just better than us. They just outplayed us and they’re very well coached.”

Despite coming so far just to come up short, the future of Putnam soccer is brighter than ever; of the four seniors on the team this season, only one – Deon Hill – was a regular starter. A majority of this year’s team are underclassmen, including Sanchez who, as a freshman, scored 35 goals this season – the most scored by a War Eagle freshman.

“We should be back next season,” Silva said. “Benedictine is going to [Class AAA] next season. I think there’s 62 teams in AA and we’re the second-best team, so we’ll be back. Deon is a great player, teammate and kid and he’s going to be difficult to replace, but we’ll figure it out.”

With virtually the entire team returning next season with an 18-win season and state title run under its belt, the War Eagles are poised to become the team to beat for several seasons to come. Barring any major or significant changes, Putnam County could run the table in the region once more and find itself seeking redemption at Five Star Stadium as soon as next season.

They may not have won state in 2018 but going 18-2-1, undefeated in region and securing the runner-up spot with mostly underclassmen means that the championship hunt is far from over for the Putnam County War Eagles.

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