Lufkin Smothers Tomball Memorial, 1-0, To Advance To Saturday’s Class 5A State Title Game
GEORGETOWN -- Lufkin entered its Class 5A state semifinal having scored 64 goals on the season, none of them belonging to senior defender Chris Marquez.
That all changed Thursday night.
Marquez scored with six seconds remaining in the opening half, and the Lufkin defense made stop after stop in a 1-0 shutout of Tomball Memorial at Birkelbach Field.
The win, the program's first in as many tries at the UIL state soccer tournament, sent Lufkin (25-2-1) to its 25th consecutive win and to Saturday's state championship game.
The Panthers will meet either Georgetown East View (25-0-1) or Clint Horizon (18-8) at 1:30 p.m. for Class 5A supremacy.
"I'll remember it for the rest of my life," Marquez said following the match. "It's something I'll keep (in my heart) and with my brothers. I'll always remember this, it's an amazing experience."
The timing of Marquez's goal could not have been better.
"It was huge because they had the wind and were pressuring us quite a bit in the first half," said Lufkin coach Russell Shaw. "To get that (goal) right before the half, and then to come out (in the second half) with the wind, it helped us a lot."
Tomball Memorial (19-8-2) never seriously threatened Lufkin goalkeeper Omar Roque. The Wildcats finished with just one shot on goal.
"We knew that they liked to play defense, and then when they get the ball, we knew they like to play numbers," said Lufkin senior defender and team captain Jake Williams. "Our game plan coming into it was to make sure we get at least two people on one side behind the ball. That way we could create two-on-one's to stop them. They were a great team, and we just went out there and were able to execute."
Most of Memorial's scoring chances involved plays off of its five corner kicks, although the Wildcats attempted just one in the final 40 minutes.
With less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Memorial began taking more chances in the offensive end, and had a handful of decent chances down the stretch, including a shot that went off the crossbar with 6:03 to play.
"We keep the same game plan," Williams said of his team's defensive approach at the end of Thursday's match. "Whatever ball we get, we get out. Even if we were up 3-0, we knew they would come at us hard with everything. We knew we had to play defense the whole game."
Despite not playing add-on to its lead in the second half, Lufkin continued to attack, especially in the early stages of the second 40 minutes. The Panthers had three shots bounce off the side posts in the second half.
Shaw kept faith in his team's defensive abilities, but he admits it wasn't easy watching Memorial remain to one shot from tying the game.
"Honestly, it was killing me," the coach said. "We could've had it put away; that's soccer. I thought that we were the better team today, but my gosh, those guys (Tomball Memorial) have heart. They kept coming and kept coming at us. Just great defending in the end."
Lufkin dominated the match statistically, outshooting Memorial, 8-1, for the game. The Panthers had three shots on goal in the first half that preceded Marquez's buzzer-beater, a shot to the left of Wildcats keeper Trevor Gibon, from just inside the 18-yard box.
"We had one defender back, so we had to score, and it was the last chance we had (in the first half). And I took it," Marquez said.
And now, Lufkin is one win from celebrating a state soccer championship.
"It feels great, it feels awesome," Williams said. "It's something you dream about, and we're there. From day one we always said 'we have to work hard now to win state.' And we put in work since day one, and we're glad we're here."