By ZACH SMITH, Hill Country News Sports
Saying a team gave it everything they had but came up short is a cliché used far too much in sports. But, simply put, there is no other way to describe the Vandegrift boys’ soccer team on March 29.
The Vipers were presented a difficult task in the first round of the playoffs, state-ranked No. 11 and District 14-6A champions Cy Ranch. Vandegrift scored the opening goal in the first half but battled the wind and few other factors in the second half to fall 2-1 to the Mustangs.
“I think that was the best game we played all season,” Vandegrift head coach Cody Brown said. “We battled all the way through and had chances to win the game. It kind of got stolen from us in my opinion. I’m a coach and I want to win games, but to lose games like that, I can live with because these guys played with so much heart.”
Elliott Keefe scored the opening goal for the Vipers directly from a corner kick. Cy Ranch scored ten minutes into the second half and scored the game-winning goal three minutes later.
Cy Ranch dominated the possession in the early stages and Vandegrift had all but one player on its own half of the field for the first 10 minutes of the game.
The Vipers started to pick up the pace over the next 15 minutes and got a few good looks at goal. But so did the Mustangs, who snuck through the back line a couple of times and forced Vandegrift goalkeeper Connor Roth to make a few saves.
Keefe launched his corner towards the penalty area in the 35th minute and the Cy Ranch goalkeeper didn’t have a chance as it flew to the top corner with the help of the wind.
“It was impressive,” Brown said. “The (Cy Ranch) goalie had to lay out and make a few really good saves. They’re a really good team and we matched it. It just didn’t fall our way.”
Late in the first half, an indirect free kick was called inside the Vandegrift penalty box. The Vipers clogged front of goal and Roth stepped up and saved the close-range shot.
The Mustangs poked in a rebound from a corner kick to even the score in the second half. Most of the Vandegrift players and coaching staff surrounded the referee and side judge wanting an offside call, to no avail.
Just a few minutes later, Cy Ranch midfielder Lineker Santos, who has more than 30 goals this season and was the team MVP as a freshman, launched a curving shot that found the top corner and gave Cy Ranch the lead for good.
“We are not a heavy possession team,” Brown said. “We like to move the ball quickly and counterattack. With the wind in our face, it kind of plays against our advantage. I knew that (wind) was going to affect us in the second half.”
This is the second time in the last three seasons that Vandegrift qualified for the postseason. It was the final high school game for more than 10 seniors.
An understandably emotional group stayed on the field at Monroe Stadium long after the game taking photos with their teammates, family and friends, thanking coaches and enjoying the team bond one final time.
“These seniors left a legacy fort he younger kids,” Brown said. “They’re going to remember this game and how hard we fought and how we battled. Plus, we showed what we are capable of. By the rankings, we weren’t expected to win the game, but we should have and could have. That game is going to live on for a long time.”