For the first time in school history the Enterprise Wildcats soccer team battled all the way to the Class 7A State Championship on Saturday, May 11, before losing 3-2 to Hoover after a penalty kick shootout.
The Wildcats were able to strike first against Hoover going up 1-0 with 18:22 left in the first half off a Sebastian Guerrero goal. Rasheed Bolaji earned the assist on the score.
Then, Hoover was able to take control of the game and take a 2-1 lead into halftime.
“We got to halftime and we had to change a few things because I thought Hoover was getting the better of us in the game,” Enterprise coach Bruce Ladner said. “We changed some things up tactically and came out in the second half and played much better.”
Part of the tactical change was Enterprise’s defenders becoming a part of the offensive attack and this resulted in defender Andre Mazariegos scoring his first goal of the season.
Andre Mazariegos scored with 21 seconds remaining to tie the game up 2-2, off an assist from his brother Sam Mazariegos.
Neither team was able to score in either the first or second overtime.
“I felt like if we got to overtime then we had the momentum,” Ladner said. “The boys were running on fumes at that point. It’s almost impossible to play two games at that level in 15 hours. Both teams were tired but we went for the win in the overtime periods.”
After two overtime periods, if no winner is decided, the game devolves into a penalty kick shootout.
“I don’t know if there is a worst possible way to decide a championship game than penalty kicks,” Ladner said. “We knew that was a possibility and we prepared for it but when it came down to it they made the kicks to win and we end up as runner-up instead of state champions.”
After Hoover made all five of their penalty kicks, the Wildcats were able to knock down their first three before the fourth coming up short meaning that Hoover was state champions.
“I am incredibly proud of our guys and they gave an incredible effort all year long,” Ladner said. “We played the toughest schedule that we possibly could and they were deserving of being state champions.
“There isn’t a whiskers difference between us and Hoover and hopefully they will keep their heads up and next year we can get that state championship trophy instead of the runner-up trophy.”
It also required two overtimes for the Wildcats to earn that state championship appearance as Enterprise defeated McGill-Toolen 3-2 in double overtime in the semifinals.
Enterprise took an early 1-0 lead against McGill when Bolaji scored with 14:00 left in the opening half.
“I thought we came out (and played) really well,” Ladner said. “I thought we were in control of the game but I’m not sure we kept playing as well. I think we got a little sloppy.”
McGill-Toolen was able to tie things up 1-1 with 6:30 left in the first half before taking a 2-1 lead just 30 seconds later.
Sam Mazariegos managed to tie the score up with a goal with 2:44 remaining in the first half to make the score 2-2 at halftime.
With 20:50 left in the game, Sam Mazariegos gave the Wildcats a 3-2 lead before McGill-Toolen tied things up with 9:00 left.
Both teams remained scoreless for the remainder of regulation and also the first overtime.
“I felt like we were playing well enough that we could win the game in regulation,” Ladner said. “I think we were the better team.”
With nine seconds left, Enterprise’s Tyler Howard hit what Ladner described as possibly the biggest shot in school history as he drilled a shot more than 20 yards away to give Enterprise the 4-3 win to send Enterprise to the championship game.
“The guys were very excited and very happy,” Ladner said. “I thought it was a well-earned and well-deserved win. We earned our place in the finals.”
Ladner said that defenders Jeremiah Grimes and Andre Mazariegos deserve a lot of credit for their performances in the final four games.
Grimes and Andre Mazariegos combined for 20 defensive clearances that prevented Wildcat opponents from getting a shot off in the two games.
Goalie Logan Smith also had six combined saves in the two games.
Ladner pointed to his team’s tough schedule as one of the reasons the Wildcats were able to have the level of success they had in 2019 and said that he believed the turning point came in March during Enterprise’s appearance in the Smoky Mountain Cup in Tennessee.
“I really think (the turning point) was going to Gatlinburg and playing the level of teams we played up there,” Ladner said. “We played the defending Georgia State Champions (Westminster High) and that may have been the best soccer team I’ve seen in years.
“For our guys to go toe-to-toe with them – I think we played really well – I think that game really gave our guys the confidence that we could play with anybody. I think that confidence boost served us well for the rest of the year.”
The Wildcats were also extremely young in 2019 with 13 underclassmen and five seniors making up the roster.
“Those were five really good seniors,” Ladner emphasized. “Some key players there are seniors but a lot of our team will be returning next year.
“I think the guys coming back with that experience of the final four and playing in the state championship and feeling how close we were; I think that will inspire them to work that much harder in the offseason and look forward to next year and making that final step.”