SNELLVILLE, Ga. — Like a lot of athletic teams, South Gwinnett’s boys soccer squad sees itself in terms of family.
And in their second-round Class AAAAAAA state playoff game against No. 7 state-ranked Hillgrove, a pair of brother tandems came to the forefront for the top-ranked Comets.
Twins Kadeem and Sekou Agard were instrumental in giving South a first-half lead, and after the visiting Hawks rallied to force extra time, brothers Jacob and Caleb Rolon came up clutch during the shootout to help lift South to a 5-3 win on penalty kicks and 3-2 in the game Tuesday at Richard Snell Community Stadium.
Kadeem Agard finished with a goal and an assist and Sekou Agard added a goal, while Jacob Rolon scored, and then made the critical save in the opening round of the shootout and Caleb Rolon delivered to clinching goal to lift the Comets (14-3-2) into the state quarterfinals and a home date with No. 3 Forsyth Central.
But it took some late heroics and a little resilience after South let a 2-0 halftime lead slip away in the second half.
“I was upset with 20 minutes of the game,” South coach Christian Vasquez said. “I think we fell apart for 20 minutes, and then the boys picked up. We missed some chances I think we usually make, but they stuck with it and won on PKs, which I think is justice because we were the better team. But hat’s off to (Hillgrove). They played a great game.”
It looked like South might take control early after being penned up in its own end of the field for the better part of the first 10 minutes, as the Agard twins kick started the offense.
Kadeem headed a right wing cross from Nathaniel Adeojo back to his right to Sekou, who sent another header over the crossbar.
The play failed to connect, but it proved a harbinger of better things to come for the Comets a little over 14 minutes later.
This time, Kadeem settled a long ball up the middle and powered his way through the Hillgrove defense to the top of the 18-yard mark before sending a pass to his right to Sekou, who blasted the ball in for a 1-0 South lead with 23:50 left in the half.
“Those two (Agards) have been leaders all season,” Vasquez said. “The younger guys see how much they’re running late in the game, they run, as well. So not only are they vocal leaders, but with their play, everybody kind of gets involved.”
Hillgrove got its best scoring chance of the half some seven minutes later in the 24th minute when South goalkeeper Erik Calvillo came off his line to make a sliding clear before a Hawks attacker could get to it, only to see the rebound go straight to Alex Brahm.
Fortunately for the Comets, the ensuing shot sailed over the crossbar and their lead was intact, and it looked like it might stay that way heading into intermission.
But as the final seconds ticked away, South got another scoring opportunity when Haris Huskovic tracked down the deflection of his own missed shot deep in the penalty area along the left wing.
He then sent a pass slightly backwards to his right that came right to Kadeem Agard, who one-touched the ball into the net with three seconds left on the clock as the Hillgrove defense appealed for an offside call.
But the flag from the linesman never came up, and after brief discussion with the referee, the goal stood and the Comets took a 2-0 lead into halftime.
However, Hillgrove got a scoring opportunity about nine minutes into the second half on a corner kick from the left wing.
Calvillo made the initial save as the ball entered the goal box, but Aidan Boyle pounced on the rebound and banged it home to pull the Hawks to within 2-1 with 30:59 remaining.
Disaster then struck for South just over 11 minutes later when Jorge Evan Remigio committed a foul and was assessed a yellow card to set up another set piece for Hillgrove from the right wing about 50 yards away from goal.
Brahm lofted the free kick into the penalty area, where Boyle was there to head the ball under the crossbar, and the Hawks had suddenly pulled even at 2-all with 18:57 left in regulation.
The score remained that way through the rest of regulation and two overtime periods, though a foreshadowing of events to come occurred with 5:44 left in the second extra frame.
With Calvillo forced to temporarily leave the game after being shown a yellow card following a collision with a Hillgrove player when he came off his line for a loose ball, Jacob Rolon, who primarily plays in the field as a defender, briefly came on to play in goal.
And while he didn’t have to make a save after the ensuing free kick deflected off the defensive wall in front of him, and a subsequent corner kick was cleared away, it gave the senior a look between the pipes that would come in handy when the game advanced to penalty kicks.
After burying his shot in the opening round of the shootout, Jacob Rolon was sent right back into goal for the shootout and dove to his right to bat away Brahm’s shot attempt inside the back post.
“He’s a senior, so his mentality is always right,” Velasquez said of Jacob Rolon. “He’d played keeper up until his freshman year here, so as a player, now he knows shooting instincts. … He always has the right mentality to play anywhere.”
Hillgrove scored on its next three attempts, but Sekou and Kadeem Agard and Adeojo matched those goals.
That left the game on the foot of Caleb Rolon, who left no doubt by burying his shot to send the Comets into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2018.