MOUNT AIRY - Habersham Central's Juan Vargas was too much for Heritage, especially a Patriots' squad depleted by spring break.
Vargas tallied a hat trick as the Raiders (15-1-1) advanced to the Region 8-AAAA championship game with a 3-1 victory over the Patriots (11-5) on Friday at Raider Stadium.
Heritage will now play Salem in the 8-AAAA consolation game Tuesday. The loss also means the Patriots will play on the road in the first round of the state playoffs.
"We had some seniors that weren't around all week, and they didn't come back for the game," Heritage coach Mike Beshiri said. "I told the non-senior varsity and JV guys they played better in the first half than we did in the second half after I put in some of the guys who came back. The seniors, it's not all of them, but it's most of them. If they come out here to play and play, we could go all the way. But I don't know why there's a lack of motivation.
"Most of the people that were here and practiced all week did real well, but it's hard playing a tough game when you've haven't able to practice all week with everyone."
Vargas gave Habersham Central the early 1-0 lead, striking for a goal in the game's first 10 minutes.
Heritage keeper John Barnes did his best to keep his squad in the game, making several big saves as Habersham Central dominated the action. He stopped two point-blank shots deep in the box and then broke up a 2-on-1 rush with a sliding effort.
In the second half, Vargas struck again for the Raiders 9:44 into the second half, beating a diving Barnes to a 50-50 ball in the middle of the box. Barnes left the game at that point with an injury.
"He got cleated, he's got about eight cleat marks with blood coming out of them," Beshiri said. "John Barnes played real well and did a great job of keeping us in the game."
Vargas added his final goal with 13:02 left in the game, scoring on a header deep in the box after a Heritage defensive breakdown.
The Patriots finally got on the scoreboard with 6:36 remaining in the contest. Paul Bates scored on a header at the back post off a corner kick by Kevin Huet.
But Heritage, which lost its regular-season meeting at Habersham Central 1-0 in mid-February, could not muster enough offense to mount a comeback.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.