Birkelbach Field provided the perfect stage for a scene of symmetrical brilliance on the soccer pitch Friday afternoon in the 4A boys' soccer state championship.
For starters, San Elizario entered the match as the defending state champion and every bit capable of reclaiming its spot atop the pantheon of 4A soccer.
Midlothian Heritage took the field on the opposite sideline that its girls won the 4A state championship on one season ago. They did so at the exact same start time, 2:30 p.m., and date.
This time, unfortunately, the overtime winning goal did not send the throng of red-clad Heritage faithful into a frenzy.
The San Elizario Hawks ultimately scored the decider in the 87th minute Thursday inside Georgetown ISD Stadium for the 1-nil win.
It took a lucky bounce too — or unlucky, depending on which sideline you were cheering behind.
"I am so proud of this team," Heritage head soccer coach CaShan Clark said following the loss and medal presentation. "We knew what it would take to make and playoff run and they did it. [...] We played those tough teams early (in the season) to see where we needed to be, and then through the injuries and sickness we just bided our time. We had kids all out of position and then, after that closed-door meeting, it all came together."
The players-only closed-door meeting came following a Feb. 22 District 14-4A loss to Ferris in shootouts and was called by Heritage captains Trace Lafrenz and Garrett Garvin. The Jaguars won 14 consecutive matches after the session and ahead of Friday.
"I wish I could say that I am the greatest coach in the world and had great words for them," Clark continued, "but, no, it's all them. It's all the kids and I am really proud of them."
Heritage might’ve had its best chance of the opening half with just under a minute to play when Mark Alber drove a corner kick toward the Heritage sideline, only to have Garrett Garvin's header sail a few feet over the crossbar and draw quite a few groans from several hundred Jaguars fans.
Though a rough estimate and simply based off of an eyeball test, it would be somewhat safe to claim the Midlothian Heritage fans outnumbered those of San Elizario 3-to-1 — if not more.
The first half ended in a nil-nil tie and the Jaguars would soon have the rather gusty wind at their back too.
The National Weather Service reported nearby Austin Bergstrom International Airport experienced wind gusts from the north as high as 35 miles per hour Friday and noted wind speeds close to 25 MPH during the time of the state championship match. The wind blew from one goal through the other inside GISD Stadium.
Following the match, Clark agreed that wind played a factor in the game plan.
"We were playing more defensive-minded against the wind and thought we might be able to get outside of them, but we weren't able to get the ball down and wide to the corners like we usually do," Clark explained. "When we did, we created chances, but we just couldn't do it consistently and get balls across, and that is our game. Kudos to them. They have been here before and they did it again and I expect to see them again. I want to see them again and I will travel to see them again just to make sure that we see them before we get here."
Shortly after the Jaguars returned to the pitch and moments before the second half got underway, Clark bellowed from the sideline, "We have 40 minutes to go, let’s take it."
Fewer than two minutes into the action, co-captain Trace LaFrenz was leveled near midfield and exited the match with an apparent injury to his left leg. There’s was no call on the play, either, which set up an Eagles shot-on-goal that was handled nicely by Heritage goalkeeper Konnor Koethe.
LaFrenz reentered four minutes later.
With momentum still in the Eagles favor, Victor Unzueta took a penalty kick for San Elizario from about 20 yards out in 57th minutes only to have it blocked by a Heritage wall of defenders.
The Eagles did not lay off of the press either, which forced Koethe to have to defend seven shots in the second half alone.
Koethe recorded eight saves Friday and 12 total during the two-day state tournament. There were two hours, 25 minutes and 50 seconds of game action played between the two goals he allowed.
The performance of the junior goalkeeper, especially against San Elizario, led Clark to name him as the unofficial MVP of the tournament.
Clark noted his play Friday was "outrageous." He also praised Koethe for his vocal leadership during the state title tilt.
"He has had an awesome year," the head coach continued. "Game after game after game and dating all of the way back to our first tournament when he was named the MVP, he has been amazing. He has been amazing throughout our playoff run and today he was amazing, especially in the first half. I look over there and it's like he's an octopus with eight arms. I am so proud of him, so proud of him."
The official game MVP, as chosen by the media present, was Unzueta, the San Elizario hero and goalscorer.
That goal came in the first of two overtime periods.
Koethe saved the initial shot by Jonathon Carrillo from his right, but the deflection was gathered by Unzueta and sent into the empty net with 3:21 to play in the first overtime.
"He came out beautifully," said Clark of the play by the junior goalkeeper. "It just ricocheted. He made the play, saved it and blocked it and it went to a guy that we didn't drop to, and he (Unzueta) just tucked it away. He made all of the saves. I couldn't ask any more of him. I couldn't ask any more of him. I'm proud of him."
There were four yellow cards issued in the match, with two going to each team. San Elizario took 12 corner kicks to the two of Heritage and also outshot the Jaguars 19-4.
Heritage fell to 25-7-1 on the season with the loss, while San Elizario ends the year at 17-4-3.
THE STATE SEMIS
Midlothian Heritage received a goal in each half Wednesday evening to win its state semifinal match against (19-6-2) Comal Canyon Lake, 2-1.
It was the Hawks who struck first, however. Josh Sczech scored unassisted in the 22nd minute on a penalty kick from 18 yards out.
Heritage answered a little over 10 minutes later when Aidan Goodman snuck a shot — intended to be a cross — over the Canyon Lake goalkeeper Sawn Bell from 20 yards out. Calvin Duggins was credited with the assist.
With Konnor Koethe (4 saves) and the Heritage defense standing tough, the Jaguars took their first-ever lead in a state tournament in the 53rd minute.
Daniel Hunter beat Goodman one-on-one from 15 yards out on an assist by Garrett Garvin for the 2-1 Heritage lead.
Heritage improved to 25-6-1 with the win and advanced to the state championship match Thursday against San Elizario, while Canyon Lake dropped to 19-6-2 on the season.
Defending state champion San Elizario reached the state championship tilt by handing previously unbeaten (32-0-2) Palestine its first loss of the season Thursday afternoon, 1-nil.
The lone goal came when Eduardo Chavez headed in a Jedrek Pantoja cross from 10 yards out in the eighth minute. Steve Salais recorded the shutout in goal for the Eagles and only needed one save to do so.
The victory improved the Eagles to 16-4-3 on the season.
THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
It was exactly one year ago, April 19, 2018, when Kayler Kenter and Rachel Allen scored to lead the Heritage girls’ soccer team to the first-ever state championship in a team sport in Midlothian ISD history. Those Jaguars defeated the Jasper Lady Bulldogs, 2-1, in overtime.
The Jaguars were the first-ever Midlothian ISD boys’ soccer team to advance to the state tournament and, subsequently, became the first male soccer team to reach the state finals in any classification.
There has been one Midlothian High baseball (1982), girls’ golf (2018) and basketball (2018) team, as well as a Heritage boys’ hoops and golf team (both in 2017), advance to their respective state tournaments.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith