FRISCO — Tony Bravo put the game on his shoulders and came through like a champion.
The senior team captain fought off foot and back injuries to score on a penalty kick with 2:24 left in the second overtime period to give Sulphur Springs a 3-2 Class 4A area soccer playoff win over Frisco Liberty Friday.
Bravo’s winner, which was his third of the night for Sulphur Springs, came on a penalty kick after he had been taken down by a Liberty player. The Redhawk offender was given a yellow card.
“Tony had the shot and he just buried it. There was no doubt,” said Andy Holt, Sulphur Springs head soccer coach. “Tony was the difference in the game. We had him and we won and Liberty did not have him.”
The winning goal was Bravo’s 27th of the year and 75th for his record-setting career at Sulphur Springs.
Bravo came into the game with a painful right foot injury which required taping and special treatment. During the overtime period he was hurt even more when he fell off the artifical grass field and onto the hard track surface bruising his lower back.
“This could have been my last game. No way I was coming out. I was giving all I had for the team,” Bravo said. “We are such a close team, all from the same town. We all wanted this win very badly.”
The Wildcats (19-3-5) now advance to meet Highland Park in the next round of the playoffs. Highland Park took a 3-1 win over Prosper. The time and location of the game will be set later. The Scots have eliminated the Wildcats from the playoffs the last two years with one goal wins in overtime.
The season ends for Frisco Liberty at 20-4-1.
The game with Frisco Liberty started slowly with neither team able to score in the first half. The hometown Redhawks had three chances that all missed the mark. The one try for Sulphur Springs was also unsuccessful.
“At the half, I felt fortunate that we were not down. I think we were a little overwhelmed at the beginning of the game,” Holt said. “We were playing one of the top teams in soccer for the metroplex on their home field. But we handled it for the most part. I think we were concentrating so hard on playing good defense, we did not play that well on offense. We also had trouble adjusting to their formations. They were moving people around in the middle and we were trying to make sure everyone was covered.”
Bravo was under constant pressure during the game. The senior had trouble getting comfortable in his soccer shoes to start the game and had to switch to cleats. Redhawk players shadowed him with the goalie often yelling “14, 14!” (Bravo’s number) to teammates to make sure Bravo had to work on each possession.
Sulphur Springs defense was sparked by Erick Robles, Juan Gomez and Nazario Arellano as they kept the Redhawks from getting loose for easy scores.
Each team scored twice in the 40-minute regulation second half.
The game really became interesting when the scoreless tie was broken when Zach Tiongson off a rebound with 32:53 left in the second half. The home fans yelled as the players celebrated the 1-0 lead.
“I think that goal woke us up,” Holt said. “We really started playing more aggressive after that.”
Less than three minutes later the Wildcats tied the game. Sulphur Springs got the ball in traffic with Jose Garcia arching a high perfect pass to Bravo which left him in a one-on-one situation. Bravo took the nice angle and ripped the shot into the corner of the net to make it a 1-all game. Bravo smiled at teammates, but limped with pain after using his injured foot to score the goal.
Sulphur Springs tried to get something going, but had to stop momentarily after Caleb Brown left the game injured.
Frisco had a close range shot with 18:50 left which narrowly went wide. The Redhawks regrouped and this time made the most of the scoring try. Vince Koch got the ball off a corner kick and headed the ball into the cross bar, he controlled his own rebound and popped the ball into the net. With 17:45 left in regulation, Sulphur Springs trailed 2-1.
“We did not have good defense on that play. We kind of watched, but the kid made a good play to get his own rebound and head it in for the score,” Holt said.
As they had done earlier, the Wildcats responded well when pushed against the wall.
The Liberty goalie saw that Bravo had the ball and had broken away from all other defenders so he came and took Bravo down in the box in front of the goal setting up a short penalty kick. Bravo pounded the ball easily by the defender and with 13:21 left in regulation, the game was deadlocked at 2-all.
The Redhawks tried to get something working on offense, but Robles blocked a shot and gummed up another play as the Wildcats won the ball back.
Neither team was able to score in the final minutes and regulation ended with the game tied at 2-all.
Officials and team captains gathered at midfield and it was explained that the game was going into two 10 minute overtime periods. Each 10 minute period would be played out.
Holt told his team, “You can come out of this win a W. Be aggressive, have energy and make something happen.”
The first overtime period was uneventful with neither team really getting close to a score.
In the final 10 minute frame, Bravo got the penalty kick which turned out to be the game winner and send the Sulphur Springs fans home happy.
Sulphur Springs players celebrated on the field with hugs and high fives. They then walked over to the fence near the stands and applauded their supporters for making the 80-mile drive to the game.
“We had a good crowd and they were loud,” Holt said. “We appreciate their support. We had about as many fans as Liberty did on their home field.”
Holt said, “It was an exciting night and fun way to end it with a win. Tony did his impersonation of Willis Reed, coming back in after getting injured. He is just a special kid. The whole team played well. This is a resilient group. We have a lot of fight and character.”
“We started being more aggressive and that really helped us. Like I told the team we have to be making something happen, we’re not complacent,” Holt said. “We realize we beat a very good Frisco team. We got the goals to pull it out. Now we get to continue to the next round.”
Bravo hugged his teammates and limped toward the sideline and starting thinking of a time when he rest his weary bruises and injuries.
“I never believed I would have a game like this and score three goals,” Bravo said. “It was all for the team. I am tired now, I am just thinking about sitting in a hot bath.”
Dejected Liberty players walked off slowly from the field, glancing over at Sulphur Springs victors posing for post game photos.
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