Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- One last breakaway, one final sprint to the end of a run that stretches so far back no one at Westover wants to think about.

Not now. It would be too emotional.

"When these guys leave, I will cry my eyes out,'' Westover assistant coach Greg Brown said. "It will be an end of an era.''

That's where the Westover boys soccer program is today, on the brink of a run in the state playoffs and at the end of an even longer run that began when the heart of this team started kicking soccer balls around when they were 9-year-olds.

That's how far back Danny Brown, Bridger Ferrell, Sagar Patel, Michael Baron, Cory Walter and Wes Buchannan go back. The team they first played for -- the Albany Hot Spur -- doesn't even exist any more.

Greg Brown coached that team, and that's why he will cry when these kids say goodbye. But there's one run left before this group of seniors walks off its final soccer field together.

"This is the final chapter,'' Westover head coach Gordon Presley said at practice Thursday. "They are the core group for this team. They have played their hearts out for four years. They've worked hard to build this team.''

This could be one of the better soccer teams in Westover history, a team that might be good enough to make a run in the playoffs that start next Friday at Westover. If the Patriots beat Hephzibah in their first-round game, the soccer team will put an exclamation point on the fact they have had a better season than either the football team or boys basketball team.

They're 11-3-2, and two of their losses came to Cairo, one of the top Class AAA teams in the state that beat them for the region title Wednesday night, and the other was the season opener at Class AAAAA Lowndes.

Westover's basketball and football teams might have a rivalry with Monroe and Dougherty, but in soccer, it's an avalanche. Westover outscored Monroe, 17-0, in two wins this season and outscored Dougherty, 9-1, in two victories. The Patriots have a good rivalry against Worth County in baseball, but on the soccer field it's all Westover, which outscored Worth, 13-0, in two games.

The Patriots went 10-2 in Region 1-AAA, losing two close games to unbeaten Cairo, and outscoring everyone else, 61-4. Walter had seven shutouts.

"We said our senior season would be our year,'' said Danny Brown, Greg's son and the leading scorer on the team who is The Herald's reigning Player of the Year. "We've been talking about this since we were freshmen.''

The six Patriots aren't the only ones talking. Greg Brown and Presley both know this is the best team at Westover in years, and everyone in the soccer community knows it.

"People (in the soccer community) say we are possibly the strongest team at Westover,'' said Danny Brown, who leads the team with 35 goals and 10 assists. "You hear that all the time. I feel like we are a strong team, and we fight hard.''

The Patriots reached the Final Four twice in school history in 2002 and 2003 and went to the Elite 8 in 2006. Last year's team won in the first round and then was beaten in the Sweet 16. Now they want more.

"We want to get to the Final Four,'' said Ferrell, who has scored eight goals to go along with eight assists, while Patel has 18 goals and 14 assists. "We have a special bond. We've been playing together so long. That will push us (in the playoffs) to do even more.''

It might. Presley said the six club players, who all started as freshmen, have changed soccer at Westover and admits he had to find role players to add to them. It has worked to a great extent. The problem now is the deeper the Patriots go in the playoffs, the more club players they will see.

"Walter is probably the best goalkeeper in the region, and (Brown and Ferrell) are probably the two best players in the region, but when we play teams with more club players than we have we can get worn out,'' Greg Brown said. "We can play with Cairo for one half, but they have so many club players that we get worn down in the second half. When we play teams with less club players than us, we smoke them.''

Westover has a reputation for playing better against the better competition.

"We tend to play to the ability of our opponent,'' Presley said. "They step up when they are challenged. We played some Class AAAAA teams this season to get ready for the playoffs. We knew this would be the year. We've got eight seniors and six of them are club players and the core of this team. Next year will be a rebuilding year.''

Greg Brown knows what this playoff run means.

"This is the fourth year we've had (these kids),'' he said. "This is the year. This is our swan song.''

Everyone knows it.

"This is it,'' Danny Brown said. "We've been saying it forever. This is our year to make a deep run in the playoffs.''