Through nearly 75 minutes of play in Southeast Whitfield High School's game Wednesday in the Class 4A boys soccer Elite 8, the Raiders just couldn't coax the ball into the net.
Whether it was a shot that sailed just a bit wide or a great defensive play was made by their opponent, Benedictine Military, Southeast couldn't manage a goal.
Then, with 5:30 left, Victor Garcia saw the ball headed his way as he stood in front of the net.
"I saw the ball coming to me, and all I could think was 'I hope this goes in,'" Garcia said.
It did go in. Garcia headed the ball safely into the net and Southeast scored again just a minute later after needing 75 minutes to score the first. The Raiders defeated Benedictine 2-0 to move on to the Class 4A Final Four. They'll host Jefferson in the state semifinal game on Tuesday.
"It was almost like a dream," Garcia said. "Just being able to go up to the fans and show them my love. It's the dream, baby."
Southeast (16-0-3) was held off the board through the majority of the game thanks in part to a stingy Benedictine (9-8-3) defense. The Raiders won the possession battle by a large margin, but couldn't get many clean looks at the goal. When they did, Benedictine goalkeeper AJ Bagnoli made several diving stops to keep the Raiders off the board.
After the scoreless stalemate at halftime, the Raiders made an assault on the goal in the second, but Bagnoli wouldn't let any through until Garcia's header.
"They came ready to play, and I thought we did, too," Southeast coach Hector Holguin said. "We had a lot of the possession and a lot of the shots, we just couldn't put them away."
Jerry Favela was the Raider that scored the second Southeast goal with 4:30 left to play. Favela finally got one to go after several near misses throughout the game. An offsides call negated a kick of his that reached the back of the net, and two other second-half looks for Favela went wide.
"We knew that once we scored the first one, they were going to have to come out and chase the game, and it was going to open up for us in the back," Holguin said. "You saw the second goal a minute later."
Southeast is set to make their seventh appearance in the state semifinals. The Raiders reached the semis the last time the tournament was played in 2019, before the end of the season last year was canceled because of the outbreak of COVID-19. The Raiders fell 4-3 to eventual state champion Oconee County in the semifinals. The Raiders won the state championship in 2017.