MACON, Ga. — Chattahoochee head coach Les Meenan said his team had already mentally booked their spot in the state championship game last year when the team rode into the semifinals with an undefeated record and were ranked the No. 1 team in the nation.
But Parkview had other ideas.
Parkview shut out Hooch 2-0, abruptly ending their season before they reached the state title game they seemed destined for.
It was that game that remained on the minds of the returning Chattahoochee players this season.
“It was definitely on our minds,” Meenan said. “The boys knew that with one bad performance or coming in to the game not prepared we were beatable. We learned from it and came out this year ready for all of our playoff games,” he said.
That preparation and mental fortitude payed off for the Cougars this playoff run, as they outscored opponents 24-2 in five playoff games, culminating with a 2-0 win over Gainesville in the Class AAAAAA state championship Saturday at Mercer University.
The Cougars used a goal and assist from junior Ryan Kapper and a brilliant performance from its defense and goalkeeper Jack Corrigan to capture Hooch’s second state championship – its first since 2011 in Class AAAA.
Meenan called his defense’s performance exceptional and said Corrigan’s performance was his best all season.
“You want kids to have big performances in big games and that’s his best performance in goal this year,” Meenan said.
Kapper connected with Nicholas Troyer on a corner 10 minutes into the game and scored on a fantastic run midway through the second half to put Hooch up 2-0.
“[Kapper] is the smallest kid, but he is everywhere,” Meenan said. “Sometimes I look out and think there are two of him on the field.”
Meenan said the team had been giving Kapper a “hard time” about not scoring enough goals, but his goal in the second half proved to be worth the wait as Kapper took the ball near midfield, weaved inside and outside defenders to the left side of the box before burying his shot.
“That was class act,” Meenan said. “All-in-all it was a great performance [by Kapper].”
Meenan said the mindset for the game was to attack early, a weakness he saw in Gainesville. With Troyer’s header finding the back of the net just 10 minutes in, Hooch began to step back and play more defensively.
Corrigan and Hooch’s defense, which rightly began calling themselves the “brick wall,” posted the team’s 11th shutout of the season. Gainesville had been shut out just once this year entering the state championship.
Chattahoochee continually forced Gainesville outside where the Red Elephants were forced to settle for long, contested crosses.
“We worked so hard to get them to throw crosses in the box and on every corner that wasn’t perfect [Corrigan] was great for us.”
Corrigan made four saves in the second half and with Kapper’s goal, Hooch denied a late, desperate attempt by Gainesville to force a comeback.
After the frenetic final few minutes, Meenan gave credit to assistant coach Eduardo Coloma for helping keep Hooch’s legs strong.
And those legs still had enough energy to rush the field and circle it in celebration, state championship trophy in hand.
On his team’s state championship, Meenan said he is delighted for the team and the school to overcome the upsetting end to last year’s season and to once again claim a state title.
“As coaches, we’re looking for that spark in the kids’ eyes. These are the happiest moments of their lives. It’s what keep us coming back and coaching.”