Playoff opportunities like this don't come around that often, and Sulphur Springs is trying to make the most of it.
The last time Sulphur Springs was involved in the regional playoffs, it was 2006. The Wildcats made it to the regional finals.
Sulphur Springs (20-3-5) has a date with Mesquite Poteet today at 7:15 p.m. in Lindale in the Class 4A regional quarterfinals.
The teams have a lot in common and it's easy to see how they made it this far.
Both squads have won 20 games and taken district titles. The Pirates and Wildcats have dominant players on offense and can be relentless on defense.
The coaches, both Sulphur Springs graduates and former Wildcat stars, are complimentary when talking about their opponents in this big time game.
"Poteet is very talented and well-coached. Their record is 20-1-3 and that speaks a lot," said Andy Holt, Sulphur Springs head soccer coach. "They are extremely good on the offensive side of the ball. They have two forwards that have combined to score over 50 goals this year. They are both going to Richland Junior College next year to play soccer. We have to find a way to stop those two guys if we have a shot at winning."
The two players are Charles Ojeda, 32 goals, 18 assists and Carlos Cardenas, 24 goals, 25 assists for Poteet.
Holt continued, "Poteet's defense is strong as well. They have a goal keeper that has starters two years now, so they have experience there. They have a talented center back and great skill and knowledge of the game. That's why they have only lost one game this year. They are good every where. We will look to do what we did the first time we played them (a 2-all tie). That is to stop the two forwards. We need to push and put pressure on their outside backs. If we can keep possession, we will help our defenders from having to defend those two forwards as much."
"We have not made it this far in a while. We got to the regional finals and lost a 3-2 thriller to Mount Pleasant," Holt said. "Since then they have allowed more teams into the playoffs and there are more teams playing soccer. So you have to play well in more playoff games to get to the regional final. Hopefully, we can get there and advance this time."
The Wildcats are led into the game by all-time leading scorer Tony Bravo. Bravo has 77 all-time goals and is the top scorer for the district champions in 19-4A. Since entering postseason his game has even gotten better. Bravo has fought off injuries to score five goals in the last two games. The team follows his senior leadership and seems to thrive when he is on the field.
Mesquite Poteet head soccer coach Colby Peek was an assistant at Sulphur Springs when Bravo was a freshman. He is well aware of the talent they will have to defend.
Peek joked he might send him a batch of "bad" cookies or make sure Bravo missed the team bus.
Peek said, "Tony Bravo is a special player and we won't be able to stop him with one player. It will take nine guys working collectively and cohesively to hold the Battlin' Blue at bay."
Peek, a former Sulphur Springs player and coach, is amazed at the roll his alma mater has been on.
"Sulphur Springs is hot," Peek said. "They have beaten some of the top teams in the region, a district champion in Highland Park and the co-champion of the best district in the state 4A in Frisco Liberty."
The Pirates come in with some impressive wins of their own. They outscored Forney 5-4 for the sectional title.
"The kids fought hard though and showed great resolve to bounce back and win the game," Peek said. "We played well in the attacking third and not so great in the defensive third as the score represents."
Peek's prediction for the game is simple, "If we don't play our best game, we will lose. Sulphur Springs has a great side with great players that are well-coached."
The coaching connection
It was just four years ago that Sulphur Springs head soccer coach Andy Holt and Mesquite head coach Colby Peek were working the same sidelines. Now their teams face each other in the regional quarterfinals.
But the game is far from the only connection between the pair. Both are former Sulphur Springs soccer players who happened to marry SSHS graduates and sisters, Lindsey and Emily McMeans.
Now the "brother-in-law bowl" as some insiders are calling it - pits the two coaches, more accurately their teams against each other.
Peek, a 2002 graduate of Sulphur Springs said he enters the game against his former school and lifelong friend with mixed emotions.
"I've always rooted for Sulphur Springs. I always want to see their programs be successful I want to see Andy be successful," Peek admitted. "So it will be bittersweet playing the Wildcats in the fourth round. The approach to the game is the same. The preparation is the same. The stakes are the same (the winner goes to the regional tournament). The only difference will be eternal bragging rights to the winner. Hopefully, it's the Poteet Pirates."
Peek said with a laugh, "If it was a wrestling match between coaches, I would like the matchup. However, it is not."
"I worked four years for Greg Owens with most of the current staff. There are a lot of people I look up to and model my coaching after at SSHS," Peek said. "I graduated from SSHS and played soccer and football there. There is a strong connection."
Peek said, "Andy is one of my closest friends. We've grown up together, played and coached together. I was in his wedding, he was in mine. We spend every holiday together as a family. He would come home in the summers and coach and train when I was in high school as a player. He has definitely been a mentor and influenced me as a player and now a coach. It should be interesting tonight."
Holt said, "It will be great getting to coach against Colby and his team. I wish we were meeting a little deeper into the playoffs, but it has happened now and we are looking forward to it. He is a great coach and has done a great job with the Pirates. Colby was my assistant here for four years. This group of seniors was coached by Peek as a freshman."
Dewayne McMeans, father-in-law, said he was excited for the matchup.
“It should be a good game. We will be extremely happy for the winner and extremely sad for the one who does not win,” McMeans said. “They both have had excellent years.”
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