BEDFORD — For the third straight year, the Intramural Soccer Season ended with a showdown between Hurst and Euless. For the first time in Liga HEB history, Euless had a title to defend. But — for the first time in Champions Cup Match history — they never really got the chance. What began as an open, back-and-forth match got out of hand before the end of the first half. And, unlike last year, Euless simply didn't have the firepower to climb back into the match after falling behind.

The final result shouldn't surprise anyone. Teams from Hurst have dominated Liga HEB for half a decade. Raiders United, who represented the school in this year's title match, rolled into the game with the league's most dominant offense as well as its most reliable defense. Stallions FC, on the other hand, are in the middle of a roster rebuild. Most of the best talent at Euless left the league early to play for Trinity High School, leaving the Horsemen with a small contingent of veterans to lead a young squad. They gutted out results all year but rarely had an answer when scorelines started to tilt away from soccer and towards baseball numbers.

If Euless were to stand a chance, they would need to keep the match level at zero until the final moments.

Contain and Counter

The first fifteen minutes of the 2019 Champions Cup played somewhat evenly. Raiders dominated possession, moving the ball with short, efficient passes. But Stallions made the most of their chances. The teams traded salvos for ten minutes, each pushing through into the attacking third, thanks in part to their skillful attacking players. But as the match wore on, the experience gap started to take effect. Raiders locked in on the most dangerous Euless players, and the midfield became a swarm of red jerseys.

Stallions narrowly maintain a clean sheet early in the first half. (Photo by Rachel Martinez, 6 Stones)

With their opponents locking down the pitch, Stallions were forced to play for the counter; to win the ball deep and push forward with pace in an attempt to sneak behind enemy lines before the defense could set up. Their aggression opened the game even further, and the Reds looks to exploit that space by playing over or through the Euless back line. If the first ten minutes were spent in transition, the next ten were spent in an all-out blitz.

Hurst got their first look at goal in that span, their left winger breaking through to go one-on-one with Stallions' goaltender. His attempt to sneak a shot between the keeper's legs fizzled out when the Euless man sat down on the shot. The man between the pipes played with his hair on fire for most of the first half, swallowing up or punching away nearly a dozen good chances before finally being overwhelmed by a relentless Hurst offense.

The Levee Breaks

The Reds broke through in the sixteenth minute. Their midfield shut down a counterattack and played a quick through-ball to the league MVP, who outran both Euless center backs to earn a shot on goal. For the first time all night, Stallions' goalkeeper hesitated, backing away from the play instead of charging it. Raiders made him pay, slotting the ball low and to his left to take the lead.

Raiders United break through with the first of five goals on the evening. (photo by Rachel Martinez, 6 Stones)

Moments later, Hurst found the net again. This time, it was their left forward who ran onto a lobbed pass. Rather than settling for a low shot, as he had on his first attempt, the Hurst man fired high. The Euless keeper got his fingers on the ball, but couldn't push it far enough to the right to keep it out of the goal. In just two minutes, Raiders had taken a 2-0 lead.

Stallions stalled from there; the offense becoming increasingly predictable and direct. Under intense pressure from Hurst, the Horsemen struggled to hold or move the ball. Instead, they found themselves chasing their opponents around the pitch. The game was already slipping away from them when Hurst stole a third goal just before the half; the Golden Ball winner finding a teammate at the back door to pick up his first assist on the night.

No Holds Barred

Last year's Euless team trailed at the half, too. They found a way to dig themselves out of the psychological hole and win the match. But this year's team was younger, with less to inspire them. Euless claimed the Top of Table Award, the Golden Gloves, and an MVP trophy at halftime in 2018. This year, they had only a Golden Glove winner and recognition for maintaining the best average GPA in the league. Both wonderful awards, to be sure. But less encouraging to a team down by three than a reminder of regular-season dominance would have been.

Raiders United are all smiles and swagger as the game continues. (Photo by Margaret Cantrell, Volunteer)

Raiders, on the other hand, bagged plenty of silverware: League MVP, Regular-Season Winners, and a Golden Boot for their developmental squad, Hurst City. When they took to the field in the second half, it was with the confidence of a team that knew the league was theirs in 2019. And they played that way.

Hurst never let off the gas, sticking to their game plan and giving Stallions players no space to operate and no passing lanes to exploit. They won the ball at midfield with consistency and often had little more to do than punch it forward after that. Euless never adjusted to the superior athleticism and speed of their opponents, playing a high line that the Reds continued to break apart in the last half hour. Their right forward bagged an unassisted goal just by tackling the ball into space and outrunning everyone to reach it and finish high over a charging goalie.

The league MVP cemented his status with three minutes to go, tallying Raiders' fifth and final goal to end the night with a brace and an assist. He danced through a trio of would-be-defenders and pushed a pinpoint shot beneath the hands of the Euless keeper at the near post.

Champions Begin Here

Perhaps the most thrilling part of the night came after the final whistle, though. It came after the medal ceremony, in which Euless players took some solace while Hurst launched into celebration. After Hurst coach Adam Bean passed the Champions Cup to his team so that they could raise it high once more. In fact, the highlight of the night came long after teams had left the pitch.

In the stretch of concrete between the buses and the gate, players from all around the league — winners and losers in the match, alongside students who didn't qualify for a shot at the title — celebrated the 2019 season. Zeb's Foundation awarded high-quality soccer balls to every Raider and every Stallion. They even stuck around to pass out soccer gear to families and friends in the crowd. A team of volunteers from 121 Community Church grilled up burgers and hot dogs for the hundreds of students and parents in attendance. And rivals came together to enjoy the night as friends.

Where else in the world do you find Cup Winners sitting down to a meal with their conquered foes?

Students from Hurst share a meal in the parking lot at Pennington Field immediately after the match. (Photo by Charles Peebles, Volunteer)


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