Two junior high schools have dominated our Intramural Soccer League since its founding in 2010: Central and Hurst. When the league re-branded in 2016, it looked like that trend would continue. But students at Euless Junior High had other ideas. Three different clubs have finished at the top of the regular season since Liga HEB's “inaugural” season, two of them claiming the Champions Cup at the same time. In 2018, Euless finally got to stamp their name on the coveted hardware.
But Hurst City didn't make it easy.
Composure the Key Early
After upsetting the favorites in 2016 and dominating from start to finish last year, Hurst came into the 2018 Champions Cup Match looking to solidify their dynasty with a third straight title. They stepped onto the field with swagger and went right after their less experienced foes, winning a corner kick two minutes into the match. The resulting set piece fell into a disorganized Euless defense, where a savvy striker found a way to sneak the ball underneath the league's best keeper to steal an early lead.
For Euless — a team that had never trailed in 2018 and surrendered only two goals total during the three-month-long season — falling behind early was a nightmare scenario. Their confidence shaken, Real struggled to take control of the game. Outside of some solo brilliance from their Golden-Boot-Winning striker, their offense looked stagnant. Their defense looked lost. Their Golden-Glove winning keeper, discouraged.
Then, the would-be nail in the coffin.
After Real failed to convert a penalty kick in the twelfth minute, Hurst City won their own. After making a spectacular diving save at the right post, the Euless keeper scrambled to find his feet in time to prevent a follow-up. Only red-clad players followed the ball, burying it in the back of the net to put Hurst up 2-nil.
Penalty. Save. Follow-Up. ???? pic.twitter.com/KbAlTFKe9q
— 6 Stones (@6stones) April 4, 2018
Euless Keeps Fighting
City looked to have the match in hand at that point, adopting a defensive mindset in order to absorb pressure and mount a lethal counter-attack. But they never found a finishing touch that could put the game away, and Real Euless kept themselves alive with a rocket to the far post in the 28′.
Coach Davilla's boys looked to encourage each other during the break, finding a dash of inspiration during the halftime awards ceremony that saw two of their players honored for individual achievements and the team rewarded for their undefeated year. For their part, Hurst City snagged the Golden Ball in recognition of stellar play from their right winger.
Something shifted after the ceremony, and Euless looked dominant in the final thirty minutes. The boys in white took the lion's share of possession in the second half, combining a high-pressing defense with skillful maneuvering in the attacking third. They found their equalizer in the 35′ when a driving cross found its way over an otherwise stout Hurst City defense. Real's winger connected on a header, lofting his chance over the City keeper to level the match at 2.
Euless back in it!! pic.twitter.com/c04lz9iKKV
— 6 Stones (@6stones) April 4, 2018
Down to the Wire
Having seen their defense stand tall for nearly an hour, Hurst City kept to their absorb-and-attack approach. Even as Euless peppered the goal, it looked like the match was headed to overtime. City nearly stole a result late in the half, finding a few excellent openings on the counter and even winning another dangerous corner in the 51′.
But Euless were not to be denied. The Top-of-Table winners held their ground, taking the teeth out of a potent passing game that saw Hurst through to the final with ease. As the seconds ticked down and the pressure mounted, it began to feel as though a breakthrough was inevitable. And, sure enough, the winning goal came at the final whistle.
With thirty seconds on the clock, Euless won a corner kick in the shadow of the scoreboard. Their Golden Boot winner lofted a perfect service over everyone to the far post, where it caromed around near the touchline. The center official ruled that City handled the ball on the goal line, and Euless got one more chance to put the game away.
The ensuing penalty hit the back of the net on the right side just as the clock hit zero, and Pennington Field erupted.
— 6 Stones (@6stones) April 5, 2018
No Strangers Here
You would think that a hard-fought match would have ended in ill-will from the losing side. You might expect a few choice words or even an errant threat. But none of those things came.
Players from both clubs shed tears during the awards ceremony — albeit very different ones — and then the entire league gathered to celebrate the 2018 season. Students from Central and Bedford joined their peers from Hurst and Euless for dinner at the edge of the stadium. No one seemed to care about the gold and silver medals that hung around their necks. They were just kids. Just footballers.
Trinity-bound players got a special visit from their future coach after the match, as well; a welcome encouragement for students who worked hard to keep their grades and attendance up in order to remain eligible for the active roster.