By BRAD KEITH
Photos by JESSIE HORTON
STEPHENVILLE (April 8, 2016) — In an instant classic between undefeated regional semifinalists that more than lived up to its billing, Life Oak Cliff (21-0-2) scored in the second half of extra time to beat Stephenville, 2-1, and end the Yellow Jackets’ regional and state title dreams at Wildcat Stadium Friday night.
Life Oak led 1-0 before an equalizer from Aaron Veloz, who punched one home off a long pass from the middle by Ivan Cabrera. It was the eighth goal in four playoff matches by Veloz, who was confirmed following the match to be the MVP of Stephenville’s district.
The defense, especially the standout keepers for each side, did the rest. Noble Alexander made every save in live play for Stephenville in regulation. The early 1-0 lead for Life Oak Cliff came on a free kick from the left wing that star striker Jose Rodriguez rifled past Alexander to his left. It came off one of a number of controversial calls that gave Life Oak Cliff five free kicks before the regulation halftime.
Both teams had opportunities in the extra time, Life Oak finally punching one in off another free kick, this time on a rebound after an Alexander save. There was traffic in front, and Life Oak’s Freddy Sierra cleaned it up.
Until the Life Oak goal with 4:50 left, Stephenville had dominated the extra time and played largely on its front foot. But The Life Oak keeper calmly made four saves in the extra time, literally saving the day and the season for the Lions despite Alexander’s best efforts to do the same for the Yellow Jackets.
It was also confirmed following the match that Stephenville’s Tino Rocha is district midfield MVP and Pedro Manrriquez district defensive MVP.
“It was everything we thought it would be, two great teams battling it out to the end and then some,” said first-year Stephenville head coach Chayden Feist. “We couldn’t get anything going with them getting every call early on, and we just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities when we had them.
“Don’t take anything away from them,” Feist added, pointing toward the lively celebration by Life Oak, which faces Argyle in the Region I-4A boys final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. “They played their butts off just like we did. It certainly had a championship feel to it.”
Feist called it an unforgettable season with the Yellow Jackets, who won their first ever district championship and reached their first regional tournament.
“I’ve been so blessed for this to be my first group as a head coach. They’ve worked hard, they’re talented and they’ve been and done everything I ever could have hoped for,” said Feist. “They are champions.”