By Will Hammock
HOSCHTON — Mill Creek’s return to the boys soccer state playoffs, after a year’s absence, was eerily similar to its last appearance.
The third-ranked Hawks, in their first postseason game since a 2014 state finals loss to Brookwood, watched a late lead disappear and finished with the same result — a painful defeat. This one Tuesday night was even more shocking as heavy underdog Alpharetta, hovering around the .500 mark before the game, pulled off a 4-3 (3-0 in penalty kicks) victory in the Class AAAAAA first round.
The finish played out like the state championship game loss two years earlier when Mill Creek was less than five minutes from a state championship, but Brookwood scored the equalizer late in regulation and the game-winner in the second overtime.
There were no OT goals this time, only Mill Creek abandoning a three-goal lead in the waning minutes and having its first three PKs stuffed.
It was a brutal ending for the Region 7-AAAAAA champion Hawks, who finish 15-3.
“The only thing I could tell them is I love every single one of them and I couldn’t be more proud of the effort we put in,” said first-year Mill Creek head coach Brett Godwin, the 7-AAAAAA coach of the year. “We had guys that couldn’t even walk after the game. They left everything on the field. They absolutely deserved better. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. I’m beyond proud of this team.
“I admire every single one of those players. They’re an inspiration to me and all of the players to come here in the future. It’s hard to swallow, but I couldn’t be prouder of them and the effort they gave.”
Mill Creek was in control with a 3-0 lead when a PK goal in the 68th minute gave fourth-seeded Alpharetta (9-7-2) new life against a No. 1 seed. The free kick was awarded after a peculiar foul on a Raiders corner kick that sailed harmlessly over everyone’s head to the opposite sideline.
Steven Cravotta converted the ensuing PK, kick-starting a wild comeback.
“I could see our guys look around a little bit (after the PK cut the lead to 3-1),” Godwin said. “I thought we were still in pretty good control of the game, though. I thought some calls didn’t go our way, but you can’t blame the refs. You can’t blame anyone else. We take accountability for everything we do. That’s on us. We still fought to the very last second of the game, but it is what it is. It’s just tough.”
Alpharetta’s Andres Alvarez scored in the 74th minute when he followed up a teammate’s shot off the crossbar and teammate Chris Shifrin scored the equalizer in the 77th minute, picking up a failed clearance and scoring to stun the Hawks.
The defensive collapse late was uncharacteristic for a Mill Creek team that had posted 11 shutouts and allowed just 12 goals all season before Tuesday night.
Both five-minute OTs were uneventful, sending the match to PKs, where the Hawks’ fate was sealed quickly. Goalkeeper Matt Campbell saved Alpharetta’s third kick to give his team a chance, but Mill Creek couldn’t overcome having its first three PKs saved.
It was a disastrous finish to a night that began with so much promise, beginning when Mill Creek defender Jordan Ashwood set up the game’s first goal just 49 seconds into the match. He sent a long cross from the right side that found the head of 7-AAAAAA forward of the year Brenton King. King’s firm header put the hosts up rapidly.
Billy Johnson stretched the lead to 2-0 on a PK goal barely more than a minute before halftime. He drew the penalty himself when he made a move from the right corner down the goal line and appeared to get mugged multiple times before the PK was given.
Johnson extended the lead to three in the 55th minute, scoring in close off a feed from Diego Manrique.
It looked like that lead was safe, and it usually is with Mill Creek, but Alpharetta rallied for a huge upset and a sour end to the Hawks’ outstanding season.
“It is a great season,” Godwin said. “This is by no means the way we wanted to go out. We had big goals. But we did accomplish a lot. This senior class accomplished more than any senior class in school history. We had our first region undefeated season. There is a lot to be proud of with this team. Unfortunately, it had to be cut a bit short and it’s hard to see.”
Updated 17 min ago