GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Dalton (Ga.) entered the Smoky Mountain Cup with lofty expectations and delivered.
Omaha South (Omaha, Neb.) simply surprised themselves.
Regardless of the mindset, No. 4 Dalton (12-0-1) and No. 7 Omaha South (9-0) — the only two teams carrying SIMA FAB 50 Top 10 rankings into in the 64-team event — won their bracket titles Saturday at Rocky Top Sports World.
"This was a big deal for us," said Dalton senior Isai Hernandez, whose second-half goal jumpstarted the Catamounts’ 2-1 victory over McCallie School (Chattanooga, Tenn.) in the Clingmans Dome Division finale. Dalton now owns a 78-match undefeated streak, and three quality wins in 24 hours puts this former No. 1 team back in the conversation for the top spot. "As seniors, we don’t want to be the group that ended the streak. … We had to come out on top."
Omaha South senior Alvaro Elizarraga scored once in the Saturday morning 3-2 semifinal victory over McGill-Toolen (Mobile, Ala.) then twice in the 3-0 Mount Guyout Division championship match against previously defeated Station Camp (Gallatin, Tenn.).
"Honestly, I was afraid we’d come here and go 0-3," Omaha South coach Joe Maas said after the first match. "You hear so much about the SEC and athletics in the South, and I wasn’t sure a team from Nebraska could compete here."
Westminster Schools (Atlanta, Ga.) (9-2-2) went 3-0 to claim the Mount Buckley Division title. Champions in the LeConte and Chapman divisions, the other with regionally and/or state-ranked teams, will be settled following Sunday morning matches.
The clash between Dalton and SIMA FAB 50 No. 24 McCallie (6-1-1) drew a capacity crowd to Field No. 1 at the complex, including onlookers from an AAU basketball tournament that was taking place at the facility.
Both coaches pointed to the wind as a significant player in Saturday’s match. McCallie had the wind at its back for the first half and had the better of play, but was unable to capitalize as the contest was scoreless at the break.
Dalton, with the wind in the second half, immediately seized the opportunity. A McCallie defender popped an attempted clearance into the air that the wind knocked down, right into the path of a hard-charging Hernandez, who took a couple touches then easy beat the keeper on the 1v1 only six minutes into the second half.
"I saw the ball go up, I looked around and no one was around me," Hernandez said. "I just placed it in the corner."
Dalton made it 2-0 when Churrui Huitanda back-heeled the ball into the net after a corner kick with 14 minutes left.
Despite the deficit, McCallie wasn’t finished.
McCallie junior Drew Viscomi struck a brilliant free kick in the far post upper left, making it 2-1 with nine minutes left. McCallie continued the pressure that led to the game’s dramatic end. McCallie earned a corner kick with four seconds left. The official stopped the clock to issue a card, allowing McCallie a chance to set up a final play. The inswinging kick bounced a round a couple players in the goal mouth before Dalton keeper Leuri Fraire covered the ball as time expired.
"The first half was a battle, but when we had the wind at our backs we had a lot of the advantage. But we were lucky to hang on,” a relived Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said.
"What a great game," McCallie coach Chris Cushenbery said. "I wish we were able to play it with no wind. We didn’t figure out the play and all of our assignments, and by that point it was late in the first half."
Cushenbery said he was happy with the team’s 2-1 showing at the event, losing to only the team with the longest active undefeated streak among spring-playing programs.
"Kudos to Dalton for wearing that," Cushenbery said of the stress maintaining such a lengthy undefeated streak. "It’s a heavy burden … Of course, we would have loved to release them of that burden, but it didn’t work out that way."
J.L. Mann (Greenville, S.C.) bounced back from a 2-1 morning loss to Dalton to defeated SIMA FAB 50 No. 15 Norman North (Norman, Okla.) 1-0 in the other Clingmans Dome third-round match. The final group standings had Dalton at 3-0, McCallie at 2-1, J.L. Mann at 1-2 and Norman North at 0-3.
Saturday’s Top Performers
(Note, top performers were taken only from matches watched by TopDrawerSoccer staffers. Other players will be acknowledged in the post-event all-star teams.)
Alvaro Elizarraga, Omaha South, Sr., F: Elizarraga scored three goals on the day as Omaha South claimed a bracket title at the Smoky Mountain Cup.
Churrui Huitanda, Dalton, Jr., F: Huitanda scored what proved to be the deciding goal in the win over McCallie. He was very active in Dalton’s attack.
Cristian Ramirez, Dalton, Sr., D: Ramirez man-marked McCallie’s Drew Viscomi and keep the high-scoring forward from finding the net during the run of play.
Austin Tuggle, Mauldin, Sr., F: The Wofford signee displayed great speed and technical ability against Collierville.
Drew Viscomi, McCallie, Jr., F: Viscomi makes the list for the third straight day, and the junior displayed his quality with a perfectly struck free kick for the team’s lone goal.