Everything about Wichita Falls’ Memorial Stadium lived up to its reputation. Byron Nelson’s boys soccer team played and survived an epic Regional I sectional playoff victory over Wichita Falls.
Playing against a tough wind that swirls in that bowl-like setting, the 5-4 victory (Nelson won the shootout, 4-3) helped Nelson advance to the Region I quarterfinals where it met Mansfield Summit Tuesday night at the Birdville Fine Arts and Athletics Complex in North Richland Hills.
“It was a great accomplishment,” Nelson coach Howard Putter said. “The energy at which both teams played was great. Both teams played really hard and gave it everything. We just were efficient in the shootout.”
The Bobcats (23-1-2) took a 1-0 lead in the first half on a Mason Shank goal. However, Old High came up with the equalizer with about eight minutes remaining in regulation. Both 10-minute overtime periods produced a couple threats, but nothing serious as neither team scored.
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But in the shootout, Shank, Cole McPherson, Ryan Dandan and Noah Russo each found the back of the net to extend the season at least one more round. It did vanquish some of the frustration from the 2013 game in this round, when Nelson lost to Wichita Falls Rider.
“All of the kids were worn out,” Putter said. “We had guys cramping up and just exhausted. But when one guy came out, somebody else stepped up and did a great job. That’s what you need at this time of the year.”
In 2012, this program advanced to the Class 4A Region I quarterfinals before it fell to Crowley, 1-0. That was the furthest it has ever been in the history of the program.
Now, the Bobcats earn a chance to play deeper than they ever have. A win over Summit would send them to the Region I tournament this weekend in Wichita Falls. It would be the program’s first appearance.
There are plenty of seniors and juniors who were a part of that match and a part of that loss to the Eagles.
“What we’re trying to do is stay as consistent as we can and outwork people,” Putter said. “That’s been our theme all year. If people are going to beat us, they’re going to have to outwork us.
“We have a great opportunity ahead of us. But we know it’s also a big challenge, because everybody else is so good.”
If Nelson defeated Summit on Tuesday, it would meet the winner of El Paso Bowie-Amarillo in the second semifinal at 6:30 p.m. The championship is Saturday.
Enjoy the moment
Lost in the stress of playing in these playoff games can be the enthusiasm of just being in them. So Putter doesn’t want his team to forget that part.
“They’re having a great time,” he said. “Of course, they’re nervous. You should be. But you don’t want to forget why you’re in these matches. This group is pretty determined. We’re also doing a good job of putting things in perspective.”