Not even Hollywood could write a script quite like what unfolded Saturday afternoon in Tyler. That’s probably for the best, too, as the Midlothian Heritage boys’ soccer team decided to draft its own epic ending.
The Jaguars trailed 2-nil as the game headed into the 61st minute of the 4A Region II championship against Kilgore at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium. Over two hours of lightning delays and 10 minutes of game action later and Heritage was on the right side of a 3-2 advantage with a trip to the 4A state semifinals in Georgetown in the Jaguars future.
The Jaguars previously defeated Community, 2-1, on Friday in the regional semifinals to advance to Saturday's tilt.
When asked Sunday if the monumental comeback had set in yet, Heritage head boys’ soccer coach CaShan Clark replied with a laugh, “No. And it probably won’t for a long time.”
The Jaguars are the first-ever Midlothian ISD boys’ soccer team to advance to the state tournament, joining the Heritage girls’ team from last season as the only two soccer teams to represent in the district in Georgetown.
There has also been one Midlothian High baseball (1982), girls’ golf (2018) and basketball (2018) team, as well as a Heritage boys’ hoops and golf team in 2017, advance to their respective state tournaments.
Ever. That’s the list.
The 2018 Heritage girls remain the lone MISD team to win a state title.
“It feels like we played Wilmer-Hutchins three days ago,” added Clark, who is in just his third season as a high school coach after a nine-year career in law enforcement. “This has gone so fast. Until it’s over and until it’s done, I’m not going to have time to reflect. I haven’t even taken a breath yet. I’m lucky.”
THE CLOSED DOOR
The Jaguars began the year strongly with promising showings at the season-opening Liberty Hill Panther Cup tournament, highlighted by a 1-nil win against Progresso. Heritage lost to Stephenville (4-2), tied Liberty Hill (1-1) and then defeated Taylor (1-nil) in the tournament finale.
Clark did note that a little immaturity among the players led to several Jaguars not getting adequate sleep while staying in the hotel, but, all-in-all, the team “played some of the top teams in the state and came out pretty well. And then we hit the injury bug.”
With a couple of players on the mend and a few more dealing with the flu, the Jaguars fell to Life Waxahachie 5-1 in the District 12-4A opener on Feb. 8. Two weeks later, Heritage dropped a second district contest to Ferris in a shootout.
Following the loss, Heritage captains Trace Lafrenz and Garrett Garvin decided they had seen enough mediocrity for one season.
“We had that meeting, the one that you have when you know you are a quality team,” Clark recalled. “The captains called the meeting. I had nothing to do with it, and I can’t even tell you what was said, but I do know that the next week of practice was probably the best week of practice that we have had.”
The true closed-door meeting worked in tandem with players returning to health and has the Jaguars currently riding a 12-match winning streak.
One of those players to make his way back onto the pitch was Elliot Moore, who was the assists leader last season as a freshman. He had not played a full match since the win against Progresso on Jan. 3.
That changed in the 3-2 bi-district championship victory against Wilmer-Hutchins.
“We got a little energy from his return,” Clark acknowledged.
The Jaguars then notched wins over Anna (3-0) and North Dallas (2-1) to advance to the 4A Region II tournament, which began with a 2-1 win against Community in the regional semis and set the stage for Saturday’s epic come-from-behind victory.
“It was amazing," said Clark of the win.
THE STORM ROLLS IN
As the storm approached Saturday, the Jaguars quickly found themselves in a 2-nil hole against Kilgore in the 4A Region II championship at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
Shortly after halftime, in the 61st minute to be a little more precise, the rain came. And with it, so did the lightning that forced a two-plus hour delay.
Once inside the locker room, Clark recalled a scene with shoeless players strewn about in organized conversation while wearing damp kits. There was no bickering or fingering pointing or social media scrolling; instead, that same team that flashed a weekend of immunity in January had realized the opportunity at hand to right the ship mid-game.
"We knew that we weren't capitalizing on our opportunities," Clark explained. "We also knew we had 18 minutes and 34 seconds and that was it. There was no tomorrow guaranteed beyond 18 minutes and 34 seconds.”
As he pulled an Expo marker from his bag and began to draw up line changes on the whiteboard, Clark said he turned to the team and said, "if you don't believe that we are going to win this game then come give me a hug. I'm going to tell you that I love you and then you can go sit in the stands. And we'll see you at the trophy presentation.”
And no one moved.
“I told them to listen to the rain and think about soccer," Clark recalled. "And I think that was one of the things that allowed them to stay focused and come out with the energy that we did.”
During the stoppage, one of the changes implemented in the game plan included inserting Noah May into the midfield.
May was a freshman last season and sat and watched as his senior counterpart, Travis Boyd, led the Jaguars with 31 goals. Clark said it was obvious May was itching for an opportunity to show that he had every bit the ability to lead an offensive unit.
“Nobody knew about Noah,” explained Clark, as the sophomore had yet to play in any significant game action this season. He did, however, provide the pivotal spark Saturday.
“He kind of took over,” Clark said. “We just got healthy at the perfect time and hit our stride.”
Eventually, the rain and lightning subsided and the Jaguars retook the field with 18:34 to play against Kilgore. The comeback began two minutes later.
The first goal came when Zach Schmidt, who Clark labels as a "defensive powerhouse," tossed a long throw-in into the box that Garrett Garvin headed by the Kilgore goalie in the 63rd minute.
Five minutes later, Matt Stanton does what Matt Stanton does and drilled home a free kick to knot the match at 2-all in the 68th minute.
Schmidt then took a corner kick in the 70th minute that connected with the noggin of Mark Alber for a 3-2 Heritage lead.
Clark said his first thought after the goal was that of a coach — to begin working with assistant coach Brian Moss to change formations and protect the victory.
There was also a brief moment of pure joy.
“To make that comeback and then let them tie it up, oh man I don’t know what I would’ve done. I probably would have sat down and I don’t know if I have ever sat down at a soccer game," Clark said. "When Matt hit his [goal]; I ran onto the field and high-fived him. When it was over, I ran onto the field like I was 12, jumping up and down. We went berserk. It was crazy.”
He added, “They just stepped up. I asked them all to do something and they didn’t hesitate or blink. They just did what needed to be done. People have asked me what I did or what I said to them, but it’s just the exact same thing that we have done all year — it’s the players and their determination. I’m just along for the ride and trying to keep the train on the tracks. It’s been an amazing year.”
The Jaguars departed Tuesday morning for Georgetown, where they will meet (19-5-2) Canyon Lake at 6:30 p.m. in the 4A state semifinals at the Georgetown ISD Athletic Complex.
Canyon Lake defeated Progresso 1-nil to advance to the state tournament. Heritage, which will be the visiting team Wednesday, advanced to the state tournament with a 24-6-1 overall record.
The winner will then face the winner of (23-1-2) Stephenville and (23-3-2) Lumberton in the 4A state championship at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Clark said his plan between now and then is to keep the Jaguars calm and to realize that they are there to play soccer.
“No stage is too big. We don’t walk into places and look up like it’s ‘Hoosier’s’ or something. No stage is too big.”