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FPCA eyes new heights
Highlanders goalkeeper Hunter Gillison leaps for the ball and a save Tuesday during the Region 2-AA title game between First Presbyterian Christian Academy and defending champ John Milledge Academy. FPCA fell, 3-2, in sudden death. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon

While First Presbyetrian Christian Academy is known for its state championship-caliber basketball program, there is another Highlander squad that  is opening eyes around the Georgia Independent Schools Association.
On Tuesday, the FPCA boys’ soccer team lost to defending GISA Class AA state champ John Milledge Academy in sudden death, 3-2. FPCA finished as the Region 2-AA runner-up and will host the first round of the state playoffs Oct. 15 at its home turf at the St. James Sports Center.
“We were down, 2-0, and we didn’t give up — that is what I love about this team,” Highlanders coach Tom Sukaratana said. “They kept their heads up, got organized and tied the game. It was a very physical game yesterday. That team always plays physical, and overall we held our composure very well.”
The visitors took a 1-0 lead with seven minutes left before intermission. Six minutes into the second half, the Trojans scored again, giving anxious Highlander fans something to sweat over. But FPCA’s Robert Abrahms beat the goalkeeper,  knocking in the home team’s first goal. With four minutes left in the game, Tyler Causer hit a goal, but the point was negated due to a penalty. Then, FPCA’s Stanford Graham slammed in a kick to tie the game, 2-2, and force overtime.
Neither team scored during the five-minute overtime sessions, forcing a shootout.
 Again, both goalkeepers held strong, sending the game into sudden death, where the Trojans managed to earn a point for the win.
Sukaratana said the game was thrilling and what he expected against the Trojans, a GISA Class AAA program playing down in Class A. First Presbyterian finished the season with a 1-1-1 record against the Trojans.
“We played great and it came down to whoever made a mistake first, and we made a mistake,”
he said.

“There was a communication problem in the back on our second goal, (which was erased), but other than that I think we played great because they are a triple A school. I think we will meet again, hopefully soon.”
There is a possibility that the two teams could face off in later rounds of the playoffs.
The victory allows FPCA to host the first round Oct. 15 at its new field at St. James Sports Center, where the coach said the Highlanders either will play Westminster or Oak Mountain at 3 p.m.
If FPCA wins, he said, the Highlanders most likely will travel to Athens for the second round.
The FPCA boys went 15-6 overall this season, and the coach said the program has been improving steadily.
“We have a core of players that have been together for a while — since they were sophomores — and they are the ones we’ve been building this program around, and I think this is the year we can take it,” Sukaratana said. “Overall we have good seniors, good leaders and good juniors.”
During intermission, FPCA honored seniors Hunter Gillion, Carson Smith, Vaughn Head and Justin Stuart. The team also honored foreign exchange student Norihto China.
The coach said his seniors were great leaders and he is thankful he has a strong group of players poised to return next year to keep the winning tradition alive.
“Ricky Gilliard has played very well all year. He has organized the defense,” Sukaratana said. “Stanford (Graham), Tyler (Causer) and my son (Clark Sukaratana) have all played together for a while. And we will have them for two more years.”
In addition to building the program, the soccer team has been solid in defending its home turf at St. James the past two seasons.
“William Drew Weise designed the professional-style goal posts and then built them from scratch, welding all the pieces together,” the coach said. “We were blessed that he came over from Valdosta and did that for us. We’ve been blessed to have the new facility. It helped us to gain confidence playing on something we can call our own turf.”
FPCA has lost only five games on the new home field. The coach said the Highlanders have their eyes set on the big prize for the playoffs.
“The only thing I ask them to do is not make mistakes,” he said. “We are only hurting ourselves. If we play like we’ve been playing, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the year that I’ve been working for. We’ve missed here and there. We went to the finals two years ago and we lost. Last year we went but lost in the first round. But this year, we have a very good chance. They are ready for it.”

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