For 75 minutes of Wednesday's Class AAAAA second-round state playoff matchup at Grisham Stadium, the Carrollton High School boys' soccer team found itself entangled in a scoreless stalemate with Clarkston.
Then a handball call on the visitors from Decatur changed everything.
With 5:02 left in the sweet 16 battle, Marvin Gomez successfully fired the ensuing penalty kick past Clarkston keeper Josue Hangi into the back of the net to put the Trojans up 1-0, a precious lead they'd hang on to and advance to the state quarterfinals and avenge their playoff loss to the Angoras one year ago.
The name of the game was being patient and sticking to the script for Carrollton head coach Scott New. He felt that his Trojan players did an excellent job of staying the course and offsetting the athleticism of Clarkston (17-4-1).
"We did a really good job at staying organized," New said. "They have a lot of speed up top and a lot of finishers. So, defensively, we made it tough for them to try to break us down. We wanted to make sure that we protected the middle of the field and force them out wide to get them into situations where they had to serve it deep into our numbers. Our guys did a really good job of following our game plan to limit them."
The rematch from last year's state semifinal began with the top-seeded Trojans battling the second-seeded Angoras to a scoreless stalemate in the first half as both teams jockeyed to gain the upper hand.
The Trojans (17-3) had a handful of scoring opportunities miss the mark in the latter half of the frame, with shots by Dairo Jiminez, Gomez and Alex Calix either sailing just over the post or successfully saved by the Angora keeper Hangi.
More of the same came for the home Trojans throughout the second half as they seemingly got closer and closer to finally breaking the scoreless tie.
"We still have to finish our shots," New said. "We had three or four in front of the goal that we didn't put away, but it was still a great effort from our guys."
With under six minutes remaining in the contest, midfielder Melvin Juarez tried setting up the junior Gomez for yet another shot on goal. That's where a Clarkston defender was called for a handball in the penalty area, allowing for Gomez to score on the go-ahead PK.
For New, it was their plan paying off.
"We took the ball from them and wanted to get out running to create some numbers-up situations and tried to get backside, which is what created the penalty kick," New said. "Melquin put a great ball across and if they didn't have a handball, we probably would've finished it anyway."
In the end, the Trojan head man was proud of the way his guys executed in such a high-stakes contest.
"I told them it shows a lot of maturity to be able stick with what we wanted to do and execute it well," New said. "That was a good team that we beat."
The Trojans will now prepare for a home elite eight matchup on Saturday versus Starr's Mill, which knocked off Thomas County Central, 6-2, in its second-round bout.
The two teams met early in the season on Feb. 2 when the Trojans triumphed in a 3-2 victory in Fayetteville. New knows that a lot has changed in three months and he expects an even better Panther team than the one they faced before.
"We played them early in the season and I think they had a few players hurt just like we were missing a couple of players in that one. It's kind of hard to tell from the beginning of the season to the end because I'm sure both teams have grown and changed," New said.
"But we're excited to host one here and I think Starr's Mill will create another challenge. There's no gimmes anywhere in the tournament, so we have to refocus, put together a great game plan and make sure our guys are ready to be up to the task."