MOULTRIE – The Colquitt County boys soccer team has already defeated Etowah High once this season and knocked off the Eagles last year as well.
Both victories came in Freedom Cup matches in Warner Robins and this year’s 5-4 penalty-kicks win enabled the Packers to claim the Cup for the second straight time.
It was as satisfying a victory as Jimbo Jarvis’s team has had all season.
The Packers squandered an early 2-0 lead and saw the Eagles rebound to take a 3-2 lead.
Colquitt then tied the game and sent it into overtime.
Again, Etowah scored to take the lead, but Aldo Miranda converted a free kick with 1:30 remaining and the match went to penalty kicks, where some outstanding work in the nets by keeper Tony Jimenez allowed Packers to claim the victory.
Colquitt blanked the Eagles 1-0 in 2018.
So who will have the advantage when the two schools meet at Packer Park tonight in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs?
Will it be the 15-2 Packers, who are ranked No. 10 in the state and should have the confidence born of the two recent wins over the Eagles?
Or the 8-7-2 Eagles, bent on exacting some revenge after two excruciatingly close losses to the team from south Georgia?
“I think (Etowah) will have something to prove, knowing we have beaten them twice,” Jarvis said. “I think they will be ready and will bring their A game.”
The Packers have caused even the state’s top soccer programs to take notice of what is going on in Moultrie.
Only three teams – Lambert (16-1-0), Hillgrove (17-1-0) and Lakeside (14-1-3) – have lost fewer games than the Packers. And they are ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the state respectively
Colquitt won its first 11 in a row before stumbling at Camden County and falling 2-0.
After winning their next three over Lowndes, Tift County and Lee County, the Packers played their poorest match of the season and lost 3-0 at Lowndes, costing them the region title.
It dropped the Packers to the second seed in Region 1, but along the way the Packers were ranked as high as No. 7 in eurosports.com Georgia Class 7A rankings.
“We’ve been talking all year about the playoffs, so I told our players, ‘Now you’re here. This is not the time not to play well.”
The Packers also will have some other advantages, not the least of which is playing on its familiar wide, home grass field. Etowah plays on turf.
“They are not used to our size field,” Jarvis said. “We want to keep fresh legs going in and out, hoping all that space will wear them down.”
The Eagles also are facing a long trek to Moultrie.
“They have to take that four, four-and-a-half bus ride,” Jarvis said. “That’s a long time to ride and then get off and play soccer.”
Plus, Jarvis noted, the Eagles might have to deal with some south Georgia heat and those hometown gnats.
When they get off the bus, the Eagles will face a Colquitt County team that has not surrendered more than three goals in regulation this season.
The defense, stout all season, is led by the aforementioned Jimenez, whose lack of height has belied his effectiveness in the nets.
“He has been electric all year for us,” Jarvis said.
Humberto Aguilar and George Barber will provide the last line of defense before the Eagles get to Jimenez.
Barber, who missed much of the season with an injury, is rounding into shape and will be a key component tonight for the Packers.
“He is such a smart player,” Jarvis said.
Playing on the outside for the Packers will be a combination of Daniel Carriche, Uli Malagon and Bobby Ussery.
In the midfield, the Packers will send out Juan Pascual, Ruben Gonzalez and Abram Sanchez.
Pascual often provides the Packers with a spark, Jarvis said.
“When he is on his game, everyone else seems to step up,” said Jarvis, now in his seventh season as the boys team coach after spending 14 years leading the girls program.
The outside mids are Miranda, John Reid Jarvis and Gilbert Velasquez.
Pedro Luna and freshman Jason Gallardo, the team’s leading scorer, provide the firepower up front.
And the Packers have plenty of depth, Jarvis said.
“There is very little drop off,” when he substitutes from his bench, he said.
Among those he counts on are Brian Jimenez, Josh Aviles, Caden Summerlin, Enrique Salgado and Juan Espinoza.
Jarvis hopes his team can build on the 15 regular-season victories.
And if the Packers need some more motivation, there is this: Only one Colquitt County boys team has ever won 16 games - that came way back in 2002.
“We just need to play with confidence,” Jarvis said. “The more we build confidence, the better we play.”
If the Packers can get by the Eagles, they will meet the winner of today’s North Paulding-Pebblebrook game on May 2.
If North Paulding and Colquitt County win today, the second-round game will be back at Packer Park.
Also today, Region 1 champion Lowndes will play host to Roswell; No. 3 Camden County will play at Walton; and No. 4 Tift County will travel to meet Region 4 champion Lassiter.