Fossil Ridge stayed atop the district boys soccer standings much of the season, but that didn’t mean much in the bi-district round of the playoffs last week.
The Panthers lost a heart-breaker to Arlington Lamar in a 3-2 shootout.
And, although Central fought diligently to make the postseason appearance, they exited the playoffs after dropping a hard-fought and physical game to Arlington Martin, 1-0.
Central’s biggest loss of the season was to Martin in a 3-0 score early in the season, and Chargers head coach Aaron Cottrell said the close contest was indicative of the progress the team had made during the course of the season.
“It certainly shows the progress we made and the game itself showed the class and character of the team,” Cottrell said.
Central was on the outside looking in after the first cycle of district games. They pushed their way into the fourth place spot and another Central post season appearance.
“Looking back, I’m really proud of our senior class and the team overall for getting that fourth-place spot,” Cottrell said.
The Martin game was extremely even and the physical play was an added element the Chargers had to contend with.
Cottrell likened the match as more of a rugby game, saying one of the Chargers was elbowed in first 45 seconds of the game and played with a gauze-filled nose the rest of the way. “It set the tone of the game,” Cottrell added.
In addition, a Central assistant was given a red card in the hotly contested playoff game. It happened in the 22nd minute and Cottrell said there is never an excuse, but it was a heated game. “The bottom line is, I’m extremely proud of the class and character we played with, including staying poised at the end of the game.”
The earlier match with Martin left Central with an idea as to what they were up against and Martin controlled the possession most of the game.
Central has been to the playoffs in 9-of-10 seasons, even with it being Cottrell’s first season at the Chargers’ helm.
“The team chemistry came together and jelled,” Cottrell said of the turn the team took halfway through district play. “We made some formation changes and it all clicked after the first round. They’re fun to watch and it’s great to see them play like young men. Once we got on a roll, I tried to take a step back and let them take the lead. The confidence and leadership is very strong.”
The leadership was in part due to 14 seniors who finished out the season for Central. But Cottrell said with five starters being underclassmen, he expects others to step up next year.
Central ends the year at 12-8-5 after going 6-4-4 in district play.
After two 40-minute halves and two 10-minute overtimes, Ridge just couldn’t pull out the win in the shootout. It was scoreless going into the shootout session.
“The kids played hard all night and it came down to a few balls we just didn’t play,” said Fossil Ridge head coach James Moore.
After finishing last year near the bottom of the district standings, the Panthers were likely the biggest surprise team.
“It was an awesome year by our guys and they took it to a level that a lot of people outside the team thought we could get to,” Moore said. “To some people we were a surprise in district, but only to the outsiders. To finish second in district took a lot of time and effort to get it.
“We won’t let one game define our season,” Moore said.
Moore pointed back to the first loss at the opening weekend tournament as a turning point for the team.
“They realized they didn’t play together,” Moore said. “We got on the same page and blocked out all the outside stuff and focused on the same goal. To get a group of high school boys to realize that and keep that focus says a lot about their character.”
The Panthers will graduate 13 this year but the program expects others will be ready to step into the continual cycle of a successful program.
Moore said the Panthers weren’t looking past Lamar, a team which was on a hot streak at the right time of year.
“It was just an incredible amount of heart, time and dedication this group put into it to raise expectations and what it took to get to the next level,” he said.