Samuel Huerta wears a reminder of his team’s epic postseason run.
The Sam Houston senior midfielder and District 4-6A co-MVP has a small bandage covering 15 stitches over his left eye after an injury he suffered in the second round of the boys soccer playoffs against El Paso Soccoro.
Huerta and an opposing player went after a Soccoro goal kick. A second Soccoro player entered the fray and end up head-butting Huerta by mistake. The Texans won the game in Midland 2-0. And Huerta, the team captain, had to miss the postgame meal with a trip to the hospital.
“I got to eat later,” Huerta said.
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The occasional bumps and bruises didn’t slow Huerta down. He helped Sam Houston advance all the way to the state tournament.
The Texans’ title hopes ended April 17 in a 2-1 loss to Katy Cinco Ranch in the state semifinal. Huerta scored the lone Sam Houston goal, an equalizer, late in the first half.
“I can’t say enough about what he’s done, what kind of leadership he’s demonstrated for us,” Sam Houston coach Joey Rodriguez said. “He definitely left a legacy this year.”
The conditions weren’t ideal in the semifinal game. It was a stormy night, and Sam Houston had to fight through three lengthy weather delays.
Aarstein Halderaker of Cinco Ranch scored the deciding goal late in the second half.
“It was just one of those things,” Rodriguez said of the inclement weather. “I was telling our assistant coach that I’ve been going to the state tournament for 13 years and never seen a weather delay.”
Before the Texans could get to state, they first had to weather strong efforts by Grand Prairie and Amarillo in the Region 1 tournament. Sam Houston outlasted the Gophers 3-2 in the regional semifinal.
The Texans then earned the school’s first 6A regional title by surviving Amarillo 1-0 in penalty kicks following a scoreless regulation and two overtimes.
The Texans made all four penalty kicks to just two by Amarillo. Both Sam Houston keepers — starter Rene Benitez and backup Oscar Castillo — saved a shot during the game-deciding shootout.
“It wasn’t believable for us at first because of how tight it was, the game, how close it was,” Huerta said of the regional final. “Making the PK, it was crazy and we were just fortunate enough to win it. It was a good way to go out. But at the same time it [was disappointing] because you wanted to reach the state final.”
Sam Houston finished just two wins shy of bringing home a state title. Making it to soccer’s final four became a realistic goal for the Texans after they knocked off then-state No. 1 McKinney Boyd in the second game of the season.
“I think at the time we kind of believed in ourselves and believed in what we were doing and it gave us some confidence that what we were doing was the right thing,” said Rodriguez, who was named district coach of the year.
Kevin Ozee, Arlington school district athletic director, watched his district’s varsity programs excel at the highest level during his time as the athletic director for Southlake Carroll. And what Sam Houston boys soccer accomplished is one of the top feats he’s witnessed.
“I think people take for granted how tough it is in 5A or 6A to reach the regional or state tournament,” said Ozee, whose father, Ken, is the former Sam Houston football coach. “Texas is the strongest state for athletics, and our teams are competing at the highest level. A casual fan might not realize how difficult it is to reach that regional or state level.”
Ozee said all of Arlington realizes how special Sam Houston’s soccer feat was.
“The whole community is proud of what they accomplished,” he said. “We’re looking for great things to come.”
With the program Rodriguez has built, it’s not hard to imagine a bright future. Huerta and his fellow seniors won two district titles, including an undefeated run through district in 2013.
And in 2014, a rather young Sam Houston squad advanced all the way to the third round of the playoffs before losing to district rival Arlington.
“I think the biggest part was the way we ended last year, ending in the third round against Arlington,” Rodriguez said. “We had a good run. But I felt we were young.”
This year, his team stopped playing like a young team and matured before his eyes into a team capable of making a playoff run for the ages.
“I had the right leadership with our seniors,” Rodriguez said. “We had the right mix that stepped up this year. We had some juniors and seniors step up big time, like Sammy and some other guys. It’s just one of things. I don’t know if it could be done again. But we’re going to try. It was one of those magical years where everything came together.”