To the victor goes a state playoff berth
Brewer, Athens boys face off for a spot in 5A postseason
By Bradley Handwerger
When Michael Drinkard watches Athens High’s varsity soccer team control games with deft touch, brilliant passing and strong defense, he sees a little bit of his own Brewer team.
Drinkard’s Patriots will get the chance to prove him right or wrong when Brewer hosts Athens in boys soccer.
For the short and jolly Patriots skipper, he can only hope they prove him right.
A win at home against the Golden Eagles would make history for Brewer. For Athens, a win would be sweet revenge for a 2-1 loss April 7.
Why all the hubbub?
It’s a winner-take-all battle on the soccer pitch, that’s why. To the victor goes a playoff spot in the Class 5A postseason, likely against Decatur.
Brewer (14-3-1) has never been in the state soccer playoffs. Athens (10-8-2) has advanced in five of the past six years, reaching the Final Four in 2001, ’03 and ’04.
“To see them have a chance to do something that no other boys team at Brewer has done is huge,” Drinkard said. “I told them I want them to get it. I don’t care if I get it.”
Athens head coach Ron Oakley said his team’s past doesn’t necessarily give the Eagles an edge. He’s coaching a young team that at any point can have five or more sophomores playing together.
“Our goal — we just want to play some really good soccer and possess the ball,” Oakley said. “We’ll be playing on their home field, so that’ll be an advantage for them. They’re hungry to be there.”
In the first meeting, Brewer took a 1-0 lead early, but Athens answered. The Patriots, relentlessly pushing for the game-winning goal, finally got it in the waning minutes of play.
Oakley expects that same pressure to be present for the entirety of the 80-minute affair Monday.
“They’re pretty prolific in the scoring end,” Oakley said.
“Our job will be not to necessarily bunker back, but to be alert on defensive end and focus there.”
However, Drinkard is wary of this philosophy. The way Athens responded in the first game is all he needs to see to know the Golden Eagles won’t just sit back.
“They’re not going to give up. That’s just not what Athens does,” Drinkard said. “They counterattacked, they got a goal, they tied, but we’re going to keep to playing and let something good happen.”
Still, Brewer will have the home field advantage. The Patriots have won nine out of their past 10 games, avenging their only loss in that stretch — a 2-1 loss to Decatur in the Morgan County soccer tournament — with a 4-2 win over the Red Raiders.
Drinkard’s only worry about his team heading into the contest is the pressure the players may feel in attempting to write history.
“They’re going to put some on themselves,” Drinkard said. “The main thing I’ll have to do is make sure they don’t get too uptight.”
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