DUNWOODY, Ga. - Things are much different in these playoffs for Richmond Academy.
The team isn't as strong. The competition is vastly better. They've been hobbled with tough injuries and beaten four times in 2005.
But all that matters is they can't be beat right now.
The Musketeers beat the top-ranked team in the state in a shootout last weekend. They one-upped themselves in the Class AAA boys soccer playoffs on Wednesday.
The Musketeers beat this week's new No. 1 with their 3-2 defeat of Druid Hills at Adams Stadium. The victory sends the defending Class AAA co-champions home for a chance to repeat in front of the home crowd on Saturday against Flowery Branch.
"This feels so much sweeter this time around," senior striker Cline Beam said. "All the stuff we've went through has forced us to dig down that much deeper."
And that is the chief difference in the 2005 Musketeers.
"This team just has heart," Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes said. "Bunches and bunches of heart."
Those purple hearts needed a lot of beating to get past the Red Devils in what amounted to a handicap match. Druid Hills (18-3-2) played a reckless style in a dust-bin of a venue.
"It was hard to run around without getting a feeling of cotton-mouth out there because of all the dust." Richmond senior Will Batson said.
The scoreboard clock did not work. The game had as much grabbing and jostling for position as savvy footwork. Passing through the midfield was a hazard.
The Muskeeters' maximized the moments, scoring on three of their six shots on goal.
"You just had to sort of adapt the style," Beam said. "You just had to send it over the top and hope for the best."
Frustration mounted after Richmond got up early in the fourth minute off a Batson goal. A penalty kick was awarded three minutes afterward for a dubious foul call on Musketeers' sweeper Markus Jackson. The Red Devils tied it with a penalty kick.
Beam scored three times in the semifinals last year. This time, he just got the most important score with the teams tied at 2-2.
Beam found his first crease in three games off a Batson ball floated to his territory. One-on-one with Druid Hills keeper Brad Wallace, he went against instinct because of the conditions.
"It was just real bouncy," Beam said. "You've got to play long and avoid the midfield. I tried to shoot it first-time but it was bouncing so much I thought I'd shank it. So I waited and almost shanked it anyway."
Beam hit the top of a rounded off post and the ball bounced down. Then in bounded into the goal with 11 minutes to go.
"Our posts aren't rounded," Beam said. "If I hit that shot off our posts back home it doesn't get the bounce down and in."
"The score and their three goals gives Richmond the victory," Druid Hills coach Jesus Soares said. "But they did not win this. My team lost it. They win this game because we gave this to them with two crucial errors that result in their final two goals."
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org