MESQUITE – The Athens Hornets run in the 2020-21 soccer playoffs came to an end Thursday in the Class 4A, Region 2 quarterfinals to the Celina Bobcats at E.H. Hanby Stadium.
When the final horn sounded, the Hornets walked out with a 2-1 loss in a return trip to the regional quarterfinals since 2015. That year, the Hornets had a 3-1 loss to the Kilgore Bulldogs.
“It is special,” Athens coach Brendan Rich said about the return to the quarterfinals. “It is a testament to the hard work that we have put in as a group as an athletic program. It is special to us because we can give Athens something to be proud of. Athens is a special town, and the state of Texas needs to realize that and I think they are starting to get an idea.”
The Hornets finished out the year with a record of 16-5-2 under head coach Brendan Rich.
“This is a special group for me. The seniors on this group are my very first year coaching, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to see them grow,” Rich said. “I have seen them from literally little knuckleheads as freshman to great hard loving full family members. These men have built this program up and it doesn't happen without them. It has put the city of Athens on the map for years to come.”
This was the final game for seniors Jesus Hernandez, Robert Morales, Johnny Rodriguez, Neftali De Lay Fuente and Diego Castillo.
“It was tough but it was fitting that they got the run they deserved,” Rich said. “These guys have worked hard for four solid years, and they have seen good things and bad things happen. They have stood with this team and built this program as well as being the foundation of this program. It is good that they at least got their last game deep in the playoffs.”
The first goal for the Bobcats came with 9:26 remaining in the first half as Andy Allam found Trent Hamblin for the goal past Athens goalie Yahir Carrillo.
The game would remain 1-0 until 25:19 remaining in regulation when Ty Arroyo found Jesus Hernandez down the left side of the field for the goal to tie the game at 1.
The game-winner came with 10:20 remaining as Celina had a nice cross past Carrillo for the 2-1 finale.
“It was a good cross and a good positioning by their players on the game winner,” Rich said. “They are a solid team from top to bottom and they play well. They were in the right spot at the right time and it just didn't fall our way.”
Heading into the match, Rich said he knew his team would have to give 130-percent against the Bobcats. During the postgame chat, Rich said his team made him proud to be their coach.
“I saw 160-percent tonight,” Rich said. “I think the guys knew that it was win or go home, and we came in limping a little bit with some things we couldn't control. With the circumstances we were given, these guys did something very special. It shows that these guys are built with something special. It is something special from deep within that we have built within this family and they wouldn't give up. They went down swinging and did it together.”
Rich said dealing with COVID-19 throughout the year and the winter weather that Texas dealt with showed a lot about his team's mentality and what it means to be a Hornet.
“It was tough not just because of COVID,” Rich said. “Soccer is one of the longest seasons and not only that we had a big winter storm in the middle of it that kind of postponed and delayed some progress. These guys were able to put a special run together and it goes back to doing it together.”