A Class AAAA state quarterfinals game wasn't supposed to be this good of a match-up.
In Friday's 3-1 Greenbrier win over St. Pius X, the Wolfpack came into the game ranked No. 1 in GHSA Class AAAA, while St. Pius X came in at No. 2. The two top teams met in Atlanta as St. Pius X (Region 6-AAAA's top team) got the home game over Greenbrier (Region 2-AAAA No. 1 seed) in a predetermined tie-breaker.
The result was a game played on St. Pius X's home field - a private-school stadium that resembled an NFL dome more than a high school field. The playing surface at St. Pius X isn't grass, it's Field Turf - an artificial surface that looks like grass, but doesn't die, wear down or turn to mush in rain.
The Wolfpack all agreed: It played differently on Friday night than any other field.
"When you play on turf everything's a whole lot different," Greenbrier goalkeeper Jonathan Shackelford said. "It took a while to get used to the field."
Fortunately for Shackelford and the rest of the team, the Wolfpack had all the time they needed to get used to the turf. After last year's season-ending loss at St. Pius X was partially blamed on the team's unfamiliarity with the playing surface, Greenbrier coach Chip Warren made sure that wouldn't be an excuse this year.
"We came up a day early," Warren said the night of the game. "It helped us tremendously. We had to get used to the turf, and we were able to do that at this morning's practice."
That warm-up put Greenbrier on even ground with the Golden Lions, and the extra time and effort paid off when Wolfpack senior Rusty Allen scored on a loft from Will Dunaway in the first half. The goal put Greenbrier up 1-0 and sent the Wolfpack bench into a frenzy.
"It's was unbelievable. We almost got in trouble for jumping onto the field," Greenbrier's Justin Purucker said.
Purucker's role in the state playoff win went beyond cheerleading from the bench. The sophomore saw limited action in the second half. After a 45-yard goal off the foot of Brooks Duff on a free kick gave Greenbrier a 2-1 lead, Purucker entered the game and scored on a header 30 seconds later.
The goal went in with 7:54 left in the game and came with a price. St. Pius X goalkeeper Pat Barton collided with Purucker just before the header and broke the sophomore's nose.
"It was a through ball, and the goalkeeper was coming straight at me," Purucker said behind a not-so-pretty looking swollen nose. "It's broken, but it was worth it."
The win advanced Greenbrier one step further into the Class AAAA state tournament to the semifinal round.
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