Dalton State College’s men’s soccer team gathers before a game.

A loss in the Southern States Athletic Conference semifinals punctured a previously-undefeated record and put a “1” in the loss column next to the 14 wins of this year’s Dalton State College men’s soccer team.

But it certainly didn’t dampen the Roadrunners’ spirits — or their hopes for a national title.

“You have to take it exactly how we take it after every win. You take the punch or you enjoy it, and then you evaluate what you did good and what you did bad and move on to the next one,” said Roadrunners senior centerback Guilherme Franca.

Dalton State entered the conference tournament as the SSAC regular season champs, but a red-hot Life team — which went on to win the tournament as the fourth seed — upended Dalton State 2-1 with a very late goal.

“We’re happy that our season isn’t over after the loss, but we’ll come back and play,” Franca said.

The biggest goal for the players is still very much in play.

The Roadrunners enter the NAIA national championship tournament as the third overall national seed. Dalton State will host first and second round matches for a four-team bracket starting Thursday at Dalton Stadium, on the campus of The Dalton Academy and Dalton Junior High School, with the winner moving on to the championship’s final site in Decatur, Alabama.

The No. 1 bracket seed Roadrunners open play Thursday at 5:30 p.m. against fourth-seeded Columbia International. No. 2 Cumberlands will play No. 3 Indiana Tech at 8:30 Thursday night, and the winners will play Saturday at 6 p.m. for the right to advance to the final site.

Dalton State got its first win in the NAIA tournament last season with an opening-round victory over Tennessee Wesleyan, but the Roadrunners have never been past the second round.

Two seasons ago, Dalton State entered the NAIA tournament undefeated and a No. 1 seed in the opening rounds, but the Roadrunners weren’t selected as a host site, and Dalton State got bounced by fourth-seeded St. Thomas.

This year, Dalton State has that initial loss out of the way and gets the benefit of playing at home.

“It sucks to lose and it’s upsetting, but we’ve kind of gotten over it and know what’s in front of us,” Dalton State senior Justin Riescher said. “We’ve got another big game in hand and we have our eyes on another trophy.”

The loss came after six straight shutout victories to close the regular season. Life put up two goals on a Roadrunners team that hadn’t allowed a score in more than a month. Life rode that momentum to down Mobile 3-1 in the SSAC championship game.

SSAC teams Life, Mobile and William Carey join Dalton State in the NAIA tournament. Mobile, which held the top ranking in the country at one point this season before Dalton State dethroned the Rams and took the top spot, is also hosting a four-team tournament site.

“That’s football. That’s how it goes,” said Dalton State head coach Saif Alsafeer of the team’s loss. “We played really well that game in a lot of ways. If we were a little more clinical in our chances, we win the game. At the same time, there were things that we could have done that we didn’t do. For us, the mood is to look forward to taking things as they come.”

Alsafeer and the Roadrunners would have liked to bring home the conference tournament title to go with their regular season trophy. It also would have paired nicely with the SSAC Co-Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards that Franca received.

But according to Alsafeer, those aren’t the ultimate goals.

“I likened those to balloons at a birthday party. You walk up to a birthday party and see all the balloons and it really generates a fun and exciting feeling,” Alsafeer said. “You know what happens after the party? They pop all the balloons and they go in the trash. Don’t be enamored by all these things, they’re just balloons.”

“Our interest and our focus has really been solely focused on the people that are in the room. There’s really no emphasis on the ranking or the trophies,” Alsafeer said. “We’re all just so excited to be in the moment, doing what we love with who we love.”

The rest — and the winning — will take care of itself.

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