JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Chattahoochee used strong defensive play and a second half goal from captain Ryan Rigsbee to down Osborne 1-0 Friday night in the first round the state playoffs.
The two-time defending state champion Cougars have cruised to wins in the first round the last three years, but Osborne proved a formidable opponent looking to dethrone Hooch.
“We had seen how they played, and we knew they were a very big and physical, strong and fast team,” Chattahoochee head coach Les Meenan said. “Honestly I was a little scared at how we would match up. They play out of a strange formation and it gave us problems. We worked on their formation all week and figured out where we could beat it and where we couldn’t and tried to minimize their attacks and capitalize on our opportunities.”
Hooch controlled possession throughout much of the first half, using quick passes to keep the Cardinals on the run. The Cougars nearly took an early lead with a long shot from Alex Lopez, but the ball careened off the crossbar. It was the first of four Hooch shots that hit the iron.
A few Chattahoochee shots went just wide in the first 40 minutes, including a Daniel Dobrinski low strike that just went wide with over 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
While Osborne did threaten, they were mostly stalled by Hooch’s back line. However, the Cardinals had the best scoring chance of either squad in the final minutes of the frame.
After an Osborne clear and a missed tackle at midfield, the Cardinals began a run to the net. Another missed tackle and hustle from Osborne allowed a striker to go one-on-one with Hooch goalkeeper Holden Tracy in close. However, the shot flew just wide of the far post.
The Cougars applied early pressure in the second half, but their shots continued to bounce off the crossbar and Osborne’s keeper made some athletic saves.
Hooch finally broke through with 18 minutes remaining when Rigsbee used his size and strength to go over the top of Osborne’s defenders to score on a header just inside the far post.
“We should have had two or three [goals], but their goalkeeper played phenomenal game, and sometimes it just takes one to win it,” Meenan said.
A key to the win was Hooch’s effective defensive play which caused fits for Osborne, especially in the second half, Meenan said.
“We were defensively sound,” Meenan said. “We gave them one real chance. And our ball retention was great, just trying to move it quicker than they could. In the second half the couldn’t get the ball and that’s what frustrated them.”
The Cardinals’ frustration boiled over with an Osborne player incurring a red card with five minutes left in regulation. Down a man, Osborne went into desperation mode, but Tracy made multiple runs out of the net to intercept long passes and end the Cardinals’ threat.
The contest then came to an unusual end after a scrum between players. Two Cardinals’ players were shown red cards and the referee allowed the final 13 seconds to run out with a dead ball.
Though Hooch has not had the outright success of the past few seasons so far, Meenan believes the team can continue to win in the playoffs.
“They’re a good bunch of guys and they’ve been working hard,” he said. “They lost a couple of games and learned some lessons from those, and hopefully they’re moving in the right direction. We might not be as good as we are a few years ago, but we’re still good and we can still win some games.”
Chattahoochee will go on the road in the second round to face Region 8 champions Gainesville. The Cougars beat Gainesville 2-0 in the 2017 Class 6A state championship game.