FORT PAYNE – The 6A, No. 3-ranked Fort Payne Wildcats advanced to the elite eight of the state soccer playoffs after defeating one of their top rivals for a third time this season at home on Monday.
The Wildcats survived a physical matchup with the Albertville Aggies, beating them 3-0 in a game that saw both teams combine to draw 39 fouls called against them.
“Our boys were prepared and mentally focused,” Fort Payne coach Tom Shanklin said. “We had back-to-back practices that were probably two of the best ones we have had all season. They clearly understand what’s at stake and what we’re shooting for.”
Wildcat junior Kenneth Toledo capitalized on two of those fouls that led to goals on free kicks for Fort Payne. His first came eight minutes into the match and his second came with four minutes remaining in the second half.
Toledo’s second goal was the most impressive of the two. That kick came from over 30 yards away from the net and saw Toledo squeeze the ball past the keeper’s reach and under the crossbar to give Fort Payne a 3-0 advantage late in the contest.
The Wildcats other goal came 25 minutes into the first half when senior Javier Diego won possession of the ball ran with it up the sidelines before sneaking a shot inside the goal post.
The Wildcats put 11 shots on target compared to Albertville’s 6 on Monday. The high number of fouls were split down the middle as Fort Payne was called for 20 and the Aggies were called for 19.
After a pair of dominant performances in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Shanklin said the team is very confident in their ability to make adjustments on the field.
“We’re very confident right now and we feel like we’re transitioning from formation to formation as needed on the fly really well,” Shanklin said. “Everybody understands their role and how to play everyone else’s role in the event that they need to fill in for someone. Being dynamic like that and being able to adjust to any situation we get in to is something I think this team has been better at than we’ve been in years past.”
The Wildcats will hit the road for their third-round matchup with the No. 7-ranked Randolph Raiders in Huntsville.
Randolph is in their first season as a member of Class 6A after winning the 4A-5A state championship in three of the last four years.
“We’re a bit leery of it, because when we moved up to 6A, we won it all,” Shanklin said. “We can’t take them lightly. We’ve had the opportunity to see Randolph and they are a quality team with a lot of quality players. They play similar to our style and it’s going to be a championship-type game with the quality of the teams going after each other.”
That third-round matchup is scheduled to kick off Friday at 7 p.m.