It was a trend that had gone on since the Hoyas won it all in 2007.
Harrison, which finished with a 17-4 record in 2013, was way overdue to break that tradition, and it managed to do so this season. It clinched region for the eighth time in nine years and trekked all the way to the Class AAAAAA semifinals before falling 2-1 to Collins Hill on penalty kicks.
Gross said this year’s team lacked the size and speed of some of his past teams, but it made up for it with knowledge of the game and knowing how to win.
As a result, Harrison played four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards and focused more on possession — the ball seldom got off the ground when passing — instead of attempting to push the ball up field without the size and speed needed to execute.
“With our small size, we had to keep the ball and move, and that gave us a chance to play some really nice soccer this year,” said Gross, the 2013 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Soccer Coach of the Year. “It enabled us to keep the ball more, and we didn’t have to worry about breaking.”
This style of soccer allowed Harrison to upset a bigger and faster Centennial team in the state quarterfinals, after the Knights had ended the Hoyas’ season in the second round a year ago.
Against Centennial, Gross stressed that Harrison should keep the ball on the ground and execute on corner kicks, throw-ins and free kicks. The result was a 2-1 Harrison victory, capped by a game-winning goal by Nathan Vickory.
“We talked a lot about making sure we played the way we wanted to play,” Gross said. “It was one of those games where it could have gone either way. We did well with set pieces.”
Gross also coached Harrison up on how to play from behind. Only one time did the Hoyas not tie the game after falling behind by a goal, and that was a 1-0 regular-season loss to Centennial. Their other two losses of the year to Lassiter and Walton — by identical 2-1 scores — came on penalty kicks after Harrison scored the equalizer.
The victory that set the tone for Harrison was its 2-1 overtime win over Campbell in its 4AAAAAA opener March 9. The Hoyas trailed early and tied it on a Cole Guertin penalty kick before Guertin provided the game-winning goal with 2 minutes left in the second overtime period.
“No matter what adversity they had, they wanted to shake it off and keep playing,” Gross said. “You couldn’t shake them. When something bad happened, they came together.”
The Campbell win was the start of a perfect 8-0 record in region play. And the Hoyas were eager to reclaim the region after North Cobb ended their string of seven straight region crowns in 2012.