Former Murray County standout Jose Ruiz connected on a header in the 79th minute for the game-winner as Team Georgia edged Team Tennessee, 2-1, in the 11th Tennessee-Georgia Boys' All-Star Soccer Classic at Chattanooga's Finley Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Ruiz's goal completed a second-half comeback for the Peach State stars, who went into the locker room trailing 1-0, despite having several good scoring chances.
"There is quality talent all around on both sides, but in all-star games, you're never really sure how the talent will come together," said Team Georgia head coach Matt Rice (Calhoun). However, our guys really started putting it together, really from the very first practice we had and I think that really showed out here today."
After a feeling-out process for both sides, Tennessee struck first in the 19th minute as the speedy Anfernee Avila (Cleveland) gathered up a long punt by keeper Jonathan Crossman (ChattanoogaChristian), beat a defender near the top of the box and caught Georgia
keeper Raul Moreno (Calhoun) out of position before sliding an easy shot into the back of the net.
Georgia had three excellent scoring opportunities in the first half. Two came in the 23rd minute, but Crossman knocked down a header by Ruiz before recovering to stop a hard shot from Pedro Garcia (Coahulla Creek).
Crossman was equal to the task again in the 35th minute, exchanging a bloody nose for a diving knockdown of a Ruiz blast from point-blank range. A follow-up shot was smothered in the box by Tennessee's defense to preserve the precarious lead.
Georgia came out with urgency to open the second half, peppering the Tennessee goal with multiple shots in the first three minutes before finally breaking through in the 48th minute.
Following a long run and a pass from Ruiz, Miguel Villa (Northwest) put a ball through the box right on the foot of Garcia, who one-timed it past new Tennessee keeper Adam Pickett (Signal Mountain).
Both teams missed golden chances to take the lead over the next 20 minutes of action. A save by Manuel Gonzalez (North Murray) on a free kick from 11 yards out kept the score tied and Pickett make a great leaping save on a shot in the 65th minute before seeing another shot
sail high two minutes later.
But with just over 10 minutes remaining in the match and a penalty-kick shootout looming, Ruiz, the Georgia Player of the Game, went to work.
After taking a long pass down the left side of the pitch, he made a move past a defender and fired on goal, only to see the ball carom off the bottom of the crossbar. Ruiz followed up with a header that also clanked off the crossbar, but with Pickett trying to scramble to his feet and Tennessee being unable to clear the ball out of danger, Ruiz's second header found its mark to put Georgia in front for good.
Making a late push, Tennessee had one final chance to score with just 15 seconds to play. But a shot by Tyler Robertson (Notre Dame) was pushed wide left just before the final whistle ended the contest.
"We made a few little changes at halftime," Rice explained. "We took some guys that had been playing defense in the first half and moved them up to the offensive half and it gave us a little spark. Then as it got later in the second half, and we knew we needed a goal to win, we put a couple of extra strikers in there in the midfield to give us a push and it worked."
Rice also credited his reserves for their work.
"We had a very deep bench," he added. "Everyone played at least half the game, but there wasn't any let-up when the new guys went in and I think that was a big difference."
Georgia outshot Tennessee, 14-9, on the day with Crossman and Moreno making four saves each. Crossman was later named as the Tennessee Player of the Game for his first-half shutout effort.
The win snapped a four-match winning streak for Tennessee, who still lead the all-time series, 8-2.
The Girls' All-Star Soccer Classic is tentatively scheduled for next Friday, June 13, at 4 p.m., prior to the home match for Chattanooga FC's women's team.