BEDFORD — Wednesday evening, mere hours after the relent of a weeklong deluge of rain, students from Hurst Junior High hoisted the Champions Cup after a daunting 4-2 victory. Capping off a tumultuous season, FC Hurst finally captured a heretofore elusive victory over rival Atlético Central FC. On the grandest stage of the year, Hurst elevated their game to win the first annual Champions Cup Match against a team favored to knock them down for the third time since play began in January.
In previous meetings, Atlético jumped out to an early lead and dominated the flow of the game from opening kick to final whistle. On the speedy, sloping turf at Pennington, however, FC Hurst found a new gear and turned the tables on their foe, taking a 2-0 lead into the half and leading by as many as three goals in the course of the match. With 20 minutes separating the boys in red from their title, however, the outcome was far from certain. Central very nearly erased the deficit in the span of two minutes.
Having jumped on a beautiful through ball from the midfield, Hurst scored early on a clinical finish from their top striker. Slipping through the back line, the speedy forward got hold of an excellent pass and beat the only man between him and a shaky goalkeeper, burying the ball in the bottom corner on the left hand side. He tallied a brace late in the first half, sneaking a cheeky bouncing shot past a Central keeper rattled by the bright lights and high pressure of the stadium. Despite increased midfield pressure, Hurst would strike again midway through the second half on a curling strike from the right wing.
In unfamiliar territory down 3 nil, Atlético responded with a ferocious rally. Though their attack had jolted through the first half on individual brilliance, Central found little room to work against a relentlessly pressuring Hurst defense. They made respectable use of their talent up top for the first 30 minutes, sparking blistering individual runs and breaking off a few gasp-inducing shots but struggling to put the ball on frame consistently. Not so in the second half.
ACFC pushed hard for a goal to grab momentum back from their rivals, loading the box and eventually drawing a corner after a strong tackle broke up one of their best chances of the match. Hurst players rushed to help Central's downed forward to his feet in a strong display of sportsmanship after the whistle, and play was paused briefly to allow teams to reset. Atlético scored moments later on a precision set piece that floated to the top of the keepers' box and found the head of a charging midfielder, who sent it screaming into the back of the net.
Reeling from the shock of the goal, Hurst lapsed defensively after the ensuing kickoff and allowed a pass to sneak through their backline to the waiting feet of Central's leading goal scorer. Less than two minutes after getting on the board, Atlético found themselves burying a low shot in the same corner of the goalpost where FCH had tallied their first score. Three quarters of the way into the match, Central seemed to have momentum on their side as they pushed to knot the game up at 3.
Settling down, Hurst resumed the same high-speed possession play that had seen them to a dominating lead early. The passing combinations that had been their trademark in the early half of the season blossomed over the course of the game, wearing down a Central team that had depended largely on a grinding, counter-attacking strategy in their close contests all year. Still, Central made use of the momentum they had garnered to put FC Hurst on their heels in an electric second half that saw the team in red booting balls out of play on a regular basis to slow the game down.
FCH was able to ice the victory late in the second half, however, when one of their midfielders shook his man on the dribble and a habitually stingy Atlético defense failed to step to the challenge. Given just enough space to work above the penalty box, the Hurst player launched a sizzling shot toward the near post. Unprepared for such a long-range strike, Central's keeper could only watch as the ball scraped netting beside him, prompting his removal from the game. His replacement would keep a clean sheet for the final ten minutes of the match, which saw FC Hurst commit almost all of their resources to defending their lead.
When the final whistle blew and the Cup came onto the field, however, these bitter rivals were cordial to the last. Dismayed as they may have been by the upset, ACFC shook off tears and held their heads high above the second place medals awarded to them. They gladly shook hands with the champions, recognizing that this would not be the last word in a mounting rivalry that could well define the league for years to come.
Hurst, on the other hand, were glad to share their title with fans who turned out to watch the game, turning almost immediately from the presentation of the cup to raise it high toward the stands. For Coach Girau's boys, it was a scintillating end to a season defined as much by hard work off the field as on it. In his post-game comments to the team, Girau noted that the real victory wasn't in the final score but in the discipline his players had showed in maintaining the grades required to remain eligible for play.
All in all, it's hard to imagine a better way to close out the first season under the Liga HEB banner.