WARNER ROBINS -- Houston County jumped out to a lead less than two minutes into its GHSA Region 2-AAAAA boys soccer playoff contest Thursday against Grovetown and sailed to a convincing 8-0 victory.
The win clinched a return to the GHSA Class AAAAA playoffs for the second-ranked Bears, who finished as runner-up a year ago and are unbeaten this season.
“At this point we’re in (the playoffs), so we can breathe a little easier,” Houston County head coach Jason Kirk said. “Hopefully we can all get a little more loose and play a little soccer now.”
Houston County scored seven times in the first half but easily could have had more.
Kirk was visibly frustrated with his team’s shooting touch in front of goal as the Bears hit the post on four attempts and failed to put shots on frame at numerous other times.
It was the first game for the Bears in seven days, who hadn’t practiced this week because of bad weather.
“I felt great in terms of moving the ball around, but offensively we had tons of chances and couldn’t finish,” Kirk said. “Part of that was the fact that we haven’t had a whole lot of practice recently. We’re going to practice Friday and Saturday with an optional Sunday, and we’re just going to work on the smaller things like finishing and putting it into the back of the net.”
For the second contest in succession, goalkeeper Declan Furlough played all of the game’s meaningful minutes for the Bears. The sophomore split time in net throughout the season, but he has separated himself from other competitors recently.
“To be honest, I asked the guys in the back who they felt most comfortable with, and they all said (Declan),” Kirk said. “As a younger goalkeeper, to earn the respect of your defenders is all you can ask for.”
Kirk swapped 10 of his 11 players late in the second half to give his bench playing time, a luxury that isn’t often available in postseason competition. The reserves responded with a goal of their own by Francisco Martinez and secured the shutout.
“I love the fact that the guys on the bench get excited for them and show the leadership by cheering for them,” Kirk said. “It just shows this group of guys is pretty tight, and I really enjoy it.”