COLUMBUS — Fresh off a major road win last week, the Jefferson boys’ soccer team journeyed three hours to pull off another.
The Dragons (11-5-2) beat Columbus 2-0 Wednesday (May 5) in the Elite Eight to advance to their second-straight Final Four. Jefferson reached the semifinals in 2019 for the first time ever. No state tournament was held in 2020.
Jefferson will play top-ranked Southeast Whitfield Tuesday (May 11) on the road in the semifinals.
“It’s awesome,” said Dragon coach Casey Colquitt, whose team downed No. 3-ranked Marist on the road Friday to advance to Wednesday's quarterfinal. “Just to keep playing. Your seniors don’t have to go home yet. They get to end when it ends. Anybody can win right now. We play Southeast Whitfield next round … It’s just going to be a tight game. It’s anybody’s championship.”
Jefferson entered Wednesday’s contest surrendering less than one goal per game and secured its 11th shutout of the season behind the efforts of senior keeper Adam Hayes and a backline led by senior defender Jake Kuhn.
Meanwhile, the Dragons scored both their goals on penalty kicks. Kupa Katompa put one in the bottom left of the frame in the 32nd minute. Then, in the 57th minute, Cort McCormack buried the ball in the back of the net off the outstretched hand of Columbus goal keeper Chase Stewart.
“We practice PKs everyday,” Colquitt said. “Cort’s in the top five. Kupa’s in the top five. We’ve just got to trust those guys to make their PKs. And we got a shut out. So that’s defense. I mean look at Jake Kuhn back there battling all night long. That kid’s special.
"He’s the best defender I’ve seen at Jefferson come through in my seven years … Adam Hayes is special. Kupa is special. It’s a really good team. They play really good team soccer."
Colquitt also pointed to the challenges of winning so far away from home. He said the team considered Wednesday's long trek a business trip.
“It’s tough to come on the road, three hours away,” Colquitt said. “You’ve got to time everything out right … That’s tough. It’s tough on them, but good for them, they all figured it out. It’s just a heck of a win.”
Jefferson rode the energy of its 2-1 road upset of powerhouse Marist last Friday into Wednesday’s victory.
“As them being a super-prestigious private school, I think it boosted our confidence quite a bit actually, winning that game,” said Kuhn, the Dragons’ senior defender. “That was the best game that we’ve played until now.
"Honestly, it brought us together as a team because before that we were struggling a bit with teamwork and communication. But that was everyone’s best game together.”
Jefferson’s postseason run comes after a regular season that ended with three losses and a tie. Colquitt pointed to schematic and formation changes as the catalyst for the turnaround.
McCormack was moved from the middle to the wing, Katompa was shifted to attacking mid and the team adopted a one attacking-mid, two defensive-mid setup. Colquitt noted that Mason Fifer is now “facing goal, playing forward now, instead of his back to goal.”
“I just simplified the game for them,” Colquitt said.
Chase Johnson was also a late-season addition to the backline after having played right wing.
“We’ve been having trouble finding that fourth back this year, and Chase, I can’t say enough about that kid,” Colquitt said. “That kid gives you heart. He loves it … He’ll give you 80 minutes of everything he’s got in that right back spot, and he’s got speed for days.”
Kuhn also said tactical changes have bolstered the team and praised the play of Zander Patterson, Katompa and McCormack following those adjustments. Not to be forgotten, though, is the play of the defense, which has allowed just one goal in three playoff games.
The backline has locked down opponents despite Kuhn being the only member of that group with significant defensive experience.
“We’re communicating really well and passing the ball around and distributing really well,” Kuhn said. “We’re just doing everything well.”
HISTORY FOR THE TAKING
While the 2019 team reached the Final Four, this year’s group has the opportunity to take things a step further.
Jefferson, with only two starters remaining from the semifinals run from two years ago, will seek to make history on Tuesday as it will try to advance to a state championship game for the first time every.
"It does mean a lot," Colquitt said of the opportunity. "You've got to think about the guys that came before you. The guys last year didn't get an opportunity. They had the shot, they just didn't get it ... So just build on success."
The Dragons, who will travel yet again, will face a Southeast Whitfield team that defeated Benedictine 2-0 in the quarterfinals. The Raiders are ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA with a 15-0-3 record.
Kuhn said a return trip to the Final Four “is special.”
“This is my second Final Four,” he said. “It’s special to me. There’s only a handful of players on this team that have been to the playoffs. This is a really young team, and I think it’s good for the program and the future years. I’m just excited.”