By Jeffery Armstrong
Morrow Mustangs boys soccer head coach Martin Wood had to laugh as he repeated what someone asked him about the Walton High Raiders, the team the Mustangs will face in the Class AAAAA state soccer quarterfinals Saturday night at Walton at 8 p.m.
"Somebody asked me if they were good. I said there are eight teams left in this tournament," Wood said. "Out of the nearly 100 schools in Class AAAAA, we're down to the final eight. Of course, they are good."
Not only are the Raiders good, they are considered the best in the state in AAAAA. Walton, 13-0-4, is ranked No. 1 and has shutout its first two state opponents by identical 4-0 scores. The last opponent in the state playoffs, Collins Hill, was ranked fourth in the state.
Shutouts are nothing new for the Raiders soccer team this season -Wednesday's win over Collins Hill was Walton's 14th shutout of the year. In fact, the Raiders have allowed only three goals the entire season; one each to Clarke Central, Milton and Starr's Mill.
"If you want to win state titles, you have to go through the Waltons and the Starr's Mills of the world," Wood said. "You don't win state by cakewalking your way through the playoffs. We want to do two things: we want to win and we want to get respect, to show that we're not a fluke."
It would be hard to label Morrow as a fluke. Despite being unranked, the Region 2-AAAAA champion Mustangs are 17-1-1 and have played well during the state playoffs. They shutout the Lovejoy Wildcats 2-0 in the first round and they probably should have shutout Lowndes Wednesday but they ended up winning 3-2.
If they plan to show the state that they aren't a fluke, the Mustangs will likely have to ride the shoulders of five to six players on the team who show up to practice on a daily basis. Those players include seniors Marc Dupuy, Victor Mejia and Luis Ramos and others like Jusu Kenneth and Christian Saldivar.
"I'll take my first five players against any five in the state, that's for sure," Wood said. "After that, it's guys who don't have the work ethic or the discipline or the desire to be as great as my first five. You just don't know how hard I've had to work this season."
Mejia said that due to the lack of depth on the Mustangs, there are times when he's had to play hurt. He said he's nervous about facing Walton on Saturday.
"This is our toughest game this year and I don't feel comfortable that some of our guys who don't practice won't make mistakes in the game," Mejia said. "But, I know I will give us 100 percent out there."