Furious rally isn’t enough to keep Houston County’s boys soccer season going

WARNER ROBINS — As Erick Douglas’s last-second shot toward an open net faded wide left, so did Houston County’s chance at a miracle comeback. Instead, Pebblebrook emerged with a 2-1 win in a second-round game of the GHSA Class AAAAA boys soccer playoffs Wednesday.

“If we had 10 more minutes,” Houston playmaker Caleb Graves said, shaking his head. “They put their heads down when we scored.”

Unfortunately for Graves and his Houston County teammates, it’s only an 80-minute game, and Pebblebrook was better for the first 78. But the game did get interesting in the final 1:30.

Pebblebrook keeper Raul Ruiz left the game after being yellow-carded for delay with just more than a minute to play. It was the third such yellow issued to Falcons players. The Bears immediately attacked Ruiz’s replacement. With 48 seconds remaining, Houston County senior Dallas Hall headed in a goal off a corner kick to cut the Bears’ deficit to 2-1.

Thirty seconds later, Matt Besemer boomed a deep ball toward the left corner flag in the Falcons’ zone. Ruiz, who had reentered the game, ventured out of the area to play the ball, but his clearance went right to Douglas who took possession about 30 yards from the goal. Douglas settled the ball, then hammered away under pressure from a charging Pebblebrook defender. The ball sliced left.

“We had several opportunities with the keeper out of the net, but the ball just didn’t bounce our way,” Houston County head coach Heath Burch said.

Indeed, Ruiz left the goal unattended on at least three other occasions. Twice in the first five minutes of the second half, he was saved by fullback Ronald Blanco, who kicked shots away from the line.

“Every ball is the last play,” Blanco said.

Pebblebrook Striker Brayan Rodriguez consistently weaved in and out of the Bears’ back line, creating confusion on marking assignments and beating the offsides trap.

In the fifth minute, Rodriguez freed himself for a teammate’s pass after a Houston County giveaway. From 20 yards, he sent a dipping ball that short-hopped keeper Kyle Clodfelter before bouncing up, over and into the net.

“(The early goal) gave them a boost for the whole game,” Graves said. “After that, all they had to do was play defense.”

Houston County (16-3) struggled as a result. The Bears had difficulty stringing together a series of passes on any one possession. Graves was among several Houston players who made strong individual efforts, but the team game was lacking.

“The pressure — constantly trying to go forward — makes you lose composure,” Graves said. “When you lose composure, you lose team chemistry.”

Rodriguez struck again against the run of play in the 50th minute. Taking a pass in stride from Felipe Naranjo, Rodriguez slotted the ball between Clodfelter and the back post for a 2-0 lead.

“I’m proud of my team,” Rodriguez said. “We did hard work on the field, got the result and now we’re moving on.”

The Falcons didn’t win a game in 2008 while playing out of Region 5-AAAA. Now they’re in the Elite Eight.