The Wharton Tigers and their high-powered offense were held in check at home on Monday, February 10 behind a stifling El Campo Ricebirds defense.
After outscoring district opponents 23-2, the Tigers were stonewalled by the Ricebirds’ defense finishing the game in a 1-1 draw.
El Campo's junior goalkeeper Gabriel Reyes had the "game of his life," Wharton Coach Alexis Rojas said following the match.
"El Campo had their game plan and they executed to perfection," Rojas said. "They played good on defense and their goalie was the man of the match by far, we counted 16 saves. We can't be mad. They played their game. We played our game. We created chances, we just couldn't put it in."
El Campo shifted things up around the game and played a more heavy defense which made things tough on Wharton, with more defenders between the Tigers and the goal.
With fewer forwards, El Campo was content to make Wharton grind possessions out. The Tigers offense possessed and controlled the ball nearly the whole game, however, they'd only got one score. Despite having numerous corner kicks, free kicks inside 20 yards and possessions inside the box, the Ricebirds kept kicking the ball away.
"I don't take credit for myself. I take credit for the team," Reyes said. "When the team shines, I shine. When the team doesn't, I don't. I think it was a good team effort (against Wharton)."
El Campo’s few drives, their offense came on intercepted passes and balls played through past the Wharton defense perfectly.
With 15 minutes left in the first half, Ricebird freshman Alexis Salazar had a ball that drew Wharton's keeper out of the net. The keeper didn't cleanly stop the shot and another El Campo freshman Adrian Vargas headed in the ball from about five yards out to give them the lead.
The Tigers, now trailing, kept the pressure on the Ricebirds and finally with 5:30 left in the first half they broke through. Wharton's senior striker Josue Guajardo from about 20 yards out lifted the ball perfectly over a jumping Reyes to tie the game.
The rest of the game, the Tigers tried to grab another goal, but Reyes kept making saves. With time running out, the Tigers pushed even faster to try and find another crack in the Ricebirds’ defense but came up empty handed.
El Campo's defense played two complete halves of physical hard-nosed defense, even stopping Wharton on its final attempt with 20 seconds left. Off a corner kick, Wharton lifted a ball towards the net. The Ricebirds headed the ball away, but it went right to a Wharton player who headed it back towards the goal. Tiger freshman Jazir Guajardo got the pass, but not cleanly, and the ball fell right in front of Reyes, who landed on it as the game ended.
"It feels (like a loss)," Rojas said. "We dominated the game. We created the chances and one mistake cost us the game."