Kilgore state soccer champs
April 14, 2017 at 7:33 p.m.
GEORGETOWN — There were so many things that led up to the state championship game for the Kilgore Bulldogs.
It all culminated on Friday at Birkelbach Field.
Kaleb Jett notched two saves in a shootout after 100 minutes of action wasn't enough, and the Kilgore Bulldogs claimed the Class 4A state soccer championship with a 4-2 penalty-kick win (2-2 in regulation) over Bridgeport.
It was the third-straight season and fourth appearance overall for the Bulldogs in the state's final four.
"This is just amazing," senior Yonatan Contreras said. "I believed we could do this. I knew we had the potential. We started slow but I knew we had it in us."
Fueled by the death of a close friend and member of the Kilgore girls' team, Samantha Watkins, and after senior captain and four-year starter David Garcia went down with an injury in Wednesday's semifinal win, the emotions for the Bulldogs, who fell a year ago in penalty kicks in the semifinal round, were overflowing.
"Sam, that's why we wear these armbands, this was for her," Contreras, a captain, said. "She was our motivation. And then on Wednesday, David, our brother, that was even more motivation.
"We knew we had to win it for them. This is for them."
With past members of the Bulldog team in attendance on Friday, head coach Austin Walker, who has led Kilgore to three state tournaments in three seasons as head coach, was quick to say that part of the state trophy belonged to them.
"So much," he said. "They stop by at practice every once in a while and I tell them, y'all started this, y'all are the foundation.
"Everything we've been able to build is because of what they first started. They bought into the program and it just grew and grew until we got to this point right here."
That moment capped a thrilling match throughout with Bridgeport, in its second year of soccer.
Kilgore built a 2-0 lead quickly in the first half. Bridgeport answered with two goals just as quickly for a 2-2 tie that spanned from the 2:59 mark of the first half, through the second half and two overtime periods.
The Bulldogs, starting six underclassmen alongside seniors who had been here before, built their lead on its youth.
Freshman Wanya McIntyre recorded his first tournament goal to put Kilgore ahead. Sophomore Elian Torres capped a breakout season with his 25th goal of the season. He finished with three goals at the state tournament, tying a Class 4A record.
After both goals in a quick span, Bridgeport tied things up quickly, the first off a penalty kick from Miguel Olmos and the second, just over three minutes later off an assisted goal from Juan Amador.
"I don't think this could've been more dramatic," Walker said. "You go up 2-0, they fight back and we battle until penalties."
With an offensive-heavy first half, the action in the second shifted to the team's defenses, which resulted in a scoreless 40 minutes, sending the state championship into overtime.
"I think we didn't quite find our groove in the middle of the field and out wide," Walker said. "They did a good job of disrupting that. They just found a gap or two in our defense and that will happen."
McIntyre had golden chances in each of the overtime periods. The first came after a brilliant offensive sequence that resulted in a shot off the crossbar. The second, with 3:35 left, an outstanding save off the line from Bridgeport's Eric Aguilar.
From there, it was back to a familiar place for the Bulldogs and one with bad memories: penalty kicks.
"We were on the losing end of this last year," Walker said. "We know how this feels. I talked with all five of them, told them we got this. I asked each of them, '100 percent, y'all have this?'
"They said '100 percent.'"
Bridgeport went first and Amador drilled it. Contreras followed with a goal of his own for a 1-1 tie.
"I was standing out there with my brothers," Contreras said. "It's a somewhat scary feeling but we had confidence in one another and in our keeper."
Torres matched a top-shelf shot from the Bulls' Milton Iniguez for a 2-2 deadlock.
Then Jett, who garnered MVP honors, notched his first save.
Jesus Gonzalez put Kilgore in the advantage with a no-doubter. Jett then recorded his second-straight save.
One more was all they needed and it was Raul Cedillo, a sophomore who recorded a semifinal goal, who blasted it to the net, sparking and emotional celebration all over the field and into the stands a Birkelbach, a place where Kilgore, three years in the making, found its redemption and its title.
"It's just amazing," Contreras said shaking his head with a smile. "Simply amazing."
(Follow Hayden Henry on Twitter: @hayden_h)