KENNESAW, Ga. — The Dalton High School soccer team was just better.
The Catamounts outplayed, outshot, outhustled and outscored Johnson-Gainesville in the Class AAAA state final Saturday at the First Third Bank Stadium, and sophomore Javier Rodriguez created a goal and scored one in Dalton's 2-0 win for its second consecutive Georgia championship.
The Catamounts (22-0-1) have won 44 of their last 45 matches, the only blemish being a 2-all tie against Dobyns-Bennett in the Cleveland tournament in March.
"We have some amazing players on this team, and they put in the work to be back-to-back champions every day," Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. "I thought we took the game to them. The play of Johnson was at the highest level, and their speed was very good, but the later the game got, we were able to wear them down by subbing.
"We got a goal going into the half and that was huge, and it was also huge to not get scored on early because that could have been a game-changer."
The Catamounts had a large amount of their success down the left wing. It led to their first goal in the 37th minute, as Rodriguez got loose and crossed a ball into Christian Saldana, who headed it to Justen Macias for the 1-0 edge.
"We didn't expect to have success on that side, but it just happened," Rodriguez said. "There was a lot of open space, so we just took it."
The Knights (21-2) had a prime scoring chance in the fifth minute of the match when Samuel Fraire made a diving save of a Barut Perez header on the back side after a cross. That turned out to be their best opportunity of the match, as they spent most of the rest of it on their heels against the Dalton attack.
"Dalton came out with a little more energy today," Johnson-Gainesville coach Brian Shirley said. "Their center mids choked off a lot of the attack. We were able to hold them at bay, but right before the half we didn't clear a ball and they were able to sneak one in.
"We had a chance to finish one, but the keeper made a good play. If we score there, it's a little bit different game and they have to change their style a little bit."
Dalton then took a 2-0 edge on a goal in the 48th minute, as Eder Mora sent a ball back into the box that was headed by Churrui Huitanda to Rodriguez, who punched it in.
"I was just at the right place at the right time," Rodriguez said.
The Catamounts lose eight seniors from this team, but their top six goal scorers will be back next season.
"We had a plan to come in and win today and stayed with it, executed and it worked," Rodriguez said. "A three-peat is our goal, so now we have to prepare to come back here next year."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.