Bulldawgs move into second place with 4-1 win over Knights
By TJ MAXWELL
None of the current Bulldawgs had been born the last time Dawg Soccer made it to the playoffs, but this year’s roster under head coach Tyler Frank was determined to change that storyline.
After a 22-year playoff drought, the Bulldawgs currently sit in the second spot with just two games remaining after dominating Harker Heights 4-1 Friday night in the home finale at Bulldawg Stadium.
“We talked about it before the game that this is their moment,” coach Frank said after the win. “Before the season started, we need to set a goal for the season. We kind of do that every season, but this team’s a little bit different.
“We are on a 22-year playoff drought and so our mission today was to come out and hit them hard early, press hard early and never let them up after we get them down.”
They did just that.
Senior Justin Crook played inspired in his final game at Bulldawg Stadium, completing a golden trick (goal with left, foot, right foot and a header) as part of his four-goal haul in the win. Crook scored the golden trick by halftime and the Bulldawgs’ defense kept the Knights’ offense at bay to take a 3-0 lead at the break.
“It was my last home game so I had to go out right,” said Crook. “I couldn’t have asked for a better game to end the season (at home). I won’t be playing on this field anymore after four years. I had to come out and show off what I’ve been working on.”
Crook and the Bulldawgs started fast and never relented. Crooks’ first shot on goal game just 20 seconds into the match. The Bulldawgs had eight more shots on goal before Crook found the back of the net for his first goal in the 15th minute off a apass by junior Alejandro Sanchez.
It didn’t take long for the Bulldawgs to increase their lead when a cross by junior Gabriel Davis was driven into the net by Crook in the 19th minute for a 2-0 lead for the Bulldawgs.
A penalty against the Knights just outside the box set up a free kick by Crook along the sideline from about 25 yards out, which he buried in the back right of the net for the first-half hat trick.
“He’s kind of on a hot streak right now,” Frank said of Crook. “The first half of the season, we wanted him to help cover in the back, but in the second half of district, he’s on a hot streak. He scores goal after goal and he’s there in the big moments. Big players show up in big moments and we’ve been in must-win games the whole second half of district. He’s a great player and very talented. He shows up when big moments matter.”
Senior goalkeeper Ayden Seymour had his third save of the first half to keep the shutout going for a 3-0 Cove lead.
The Bulldawgs got right back to action to start the second half when Crook scored on an arching header over the Knights’ goalkeeper on a cross from near midfield by Davis to make it a 4-0 Cove lead with 36:24 left in the match.
Crook also acknowledged another motivating factor for his team as longtime soccer coach Pat Rox died in a fatal car crash early in the season and the team has been playing for him ever since.
“It sucks that he couldn’t be here, but he’s watching from above,” said Crook.
The Knights broke the shutout with a goal by Harker Heights’ Jayden Martinez on a cross by Julian Monjaras in the 52nd minute for the 4-1 score.
The win moved the Bulldawgs into second place at 7-3-2 (25 pts) as second-place Killeen fell to fourth (7-4-1, 23 pts) with a loss to 2-1 loss to first-place Temple (10-1-1, 31 pts) and Belton remains in third with a 9-0 win over Shoemaker.
“This was a very big win,” said Crook. “This is a morale booster, motivator. We’re right there and haven’t been in 22 years. We’re looking to end the drought. It’s this close and we’re going to get it.”
The Bulldawgs need a win tonight over Killeen to assure at least one of the four playoff spots with Bryan five points back at 4-2-6 (20 pts) in the fifth spot.
“The last time we played them, It was a little sloppy,” Frank said of the first round matches against Kilelen and Temple. “In this back half, we’ve really focused on defending better. We have some guys that have stepped up in the back and that new combination has helped us solidify it.”
Focus is the key for Crook in these final two games.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “We have to stay focused as a team, go all in together, and we have to fight for each other. These are some big games coming up and they’re no pushovers. They’re up there for a reason, but we’re up here too. These games are going to be tough, but we got it.”