Three words propel Robert E. Lee boys soccer rise from last place to playoffs

Robert E. Lee's Isaac Olivaries (8) drives towards goal as John Tyler's Jose Sanchez (15) attempts to tackle the ball away in a game played in February between the two teams. Lee and JT meet again on Friday, but before that on Tuesday, the Red Raiders capped a memorable turnaround to clinch a playoff spot. (Lang White / Correspondent/File)

The final buzzer sounded to signal the end of a 4-1 loss Friday at Rockwall.

"See you in the playoffs! Oh that's right - you're not going to be there!"

The parting shot was courtesy of Rockwall's goalkeeper.

Robert E. Lee boys soccer missed out on the postseason in 2016. The year before that, REL was not only in the playoffs, but finished as district champion.

Lee had never failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

"Tough people win."

Lee Assistant Coach Landon Helzer put those three words on the whiteboard in the locker room. He wanted the Red Raiders to take them to heart.

At the time he wrote them, REL was 0-3-1 and propping up the rest of the league in last place.

Next up was a game against Rockwall, which was then unbeaten, with two wins and two ties.

Helzer's words became a rallying point for the Red Raiders to turn their season around - beginning with beating Rockwall. The Red Raiders scored three goals for the first time in district play and emerged with a 3-2 victory.

That began a resurgence, which saw REL win four games in a row and rocket up the standings. The Red Raiders were stopped by Longview 1-0, but responded to that adversity with back-to-back wins, one of those coming against first-place Mesquite.

But then came the rematch against the Yellowjackets - a 4-1 loss with the ‘Jackets goalkeeper rubbing a little more salt in the wound afterward.

Two games remained, at home against North Mesquite for "Senior Night" and at cross-town rival John Tyler.

REL's seniors were honored before kickoff on Tuesday against North Mesquite: Rolando Aparicio, Aldair Delgadillo, Chris Escalante, Edward Galaviz, Randy Galaviz, Erik Mojarro, Erick Molina, Isaac Olivares, Javier Orellana, Anthony Pirtle, Edgar Sanchez, Sergio Saucedo, Daniel Vergara and Jesus Yanez.

Those 14 upperclassmen needed to rebound from Friday or they would be in real danger of making the wrong kind of school history.

Everything looked to be going to plan to ensure that didn't happen. The Red Raiders got a first-half goal by junior Nathan Saucedo and were seconds away in the second half from celebrating a victory.

Then a penalty was called against REL for a handball with 2.5 seconds remaining.

North Mesquite converted the spot kick to tie the game and force a now deflated Red Raiders team to pick themselves back up and prepare for a penalty kick shootout.

Anything less than a victory in the shootout would force the Red Raiders to have to win their final game at cross-rival John Tyler to guarantee the playoffs.

That game is worth enough as it is as far as city bragging rights without adding someone's postseason livelihood to it. John Tyler had already been eliminated from the postseason and would like nothing more than to make sure its rival stays home.

Lee needed to get this done now.

REL players were still a little stunned and crestfallen as they huddled together to try and regain focus.

Germany thought it a good time to bring back the three-word motto.

"Tough people win. This is that moment," Germany said. "We talk about being physically tough and mentally tough. Three seconds ago the game was over and you had won. Now it's tied.

"You have to gather yourself and be able to step up to the spot and nail your penalty."

The Red Raiders sent nine players to the penalty spot for a kick. Only one of them missed. It took eight successes and one key save by goalkeeper Anthony Pirtle.

Lee won the shootout 8-7 and is going to the playoffs.

Maybe the first half of the Rockwall goalkeeper's statement will end up being true.

See you in the playoffs.

Before that, REL and JT square off in the district finale at 7 p.m. Friday at John Tyler High School Field.



Sports Reporter

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