Through 39 minutes of play in Dalton High School's Class 6A boys soccer Elite 8 game against Tucker at Harmon Field Thursday night, the Catamounts led 1-0 in a relatively evenly-played contest.
As the clock ticked toward halftime Fernando Guerrero booted a shot from near midfield that he didn't even expect to go in. Instead, it changed the complexion of a contest headed for half.
"I honestly just shot it to shoot it," Guererro said. "I was so far out. They told me to cross it, but I was like, 'Nah, I'm just going to shoot it.' Then it went in."
The ball slowed and trickled past a stumbling Tucker goalkeeper with 43 seconds left to give the Catamounts a 2-0 advantage at the half, and Dalton added two more in the second to move into the state's Final Four. Dalton (18-0-2) hosts Lakeside-DeKalb (17-2-1) on Tuesday with a berth in the state title game on the line.
Guerrero had his footprint on the first Dalton goal of the game, too. A perfect centering pass left Filemon Quintero open in front of the net, and Quintero redirected the ball past the Tucker goalkeeper.
Guerrero almost had a goal earlier to his late-half longshot, as a rifled kick passed close enough on the wrong side of the post to get caught in the net and produce a few cheers from the Dalton crowd.
Dalton didn't allow many open looks at the net from Tucker all night, but Guerrero's late-half score made Tucker's chances more challenging.
The Catamounts didn't let up in the second half, though. It took the Catamounts 21 minutes to score again, but Fabian Rodriguez found his brother, Damien Rodriguez, with a pass, and Damien sent it home.
Yahir Paez added another just three minutes later, when another long-range kick from near midfield arrived at the perfect spot for Paez to leap and send the ball in with his head.
"We played a great game in both halves," Guerrero said. "We honestly should have scored more, but we're just thinking about the next one now."
The Catamounts are back in the Final Four after a year away because the end of the season last year was canceled because of COVID-19. Dalton won their fifth state championship in 2019, the last time the state tournament was held.
Dalton's Final Four opponent, Lakeside-DeKalb, arrives in the state semis after a round three win over Central Gwinnett. Lakeside has allowed just one goal in its playoff run so far, while Dalton has just let two goals in.