TWIN FALLS • Past Wendell boys soccer teams might have cashed it in.
They might have started getting on each other, buckling under the weight of disappointment and broken dreams, or just losing hope.
Down 5-1 to mighty Weiser with 30 minutes to play, the ingredients were there for another set of long faces and slumped shoulders.
Not this time.
Whether it was genuine belief or mere fleeting hope, something was still there in the eyes of Wendell players. That feeling, whatever it was, was summoned from the depths and rescued the Trojans from the abyss.
They may never wrap their minds around how it transpired, but Friday, Oct. 24, 2014 will be heralded in Wendell for a long, long time. Somehow, some way, Wendell found four goals, including three in the final seven minutes of regulation, to stagger Weiser, then knock out the Wolverines on penalty kicks to improbably reach the 3A state title game.
“We just kept believing,” said senior midfielder Jorge Valera, who scored the first three of Wendell’s goals. “My senior year, I want to be in that championship game and win it. We stayed together and never gave up.”
Weiser dominated the first 70 minutes of the match, ripping Wendell apart time and again. In the second half the Wolverines scored on a thumping volley and directly from a corner kick, and then turned on the style as they tried to play keep-away and drain the final minutes off the clock.
Then everything changed. A foul outside the penalty area in the 73rd minute set up Valera, who completed his hat trick straight from the free kick. It seemed like a nice consolation for Wendell, which lost 8-3 to those Wolverines last year at state, but the Trojans weren’t done.
Even when Jose Alfredo Barajas scored in the 80th minute, it still seemed too little, too late. But eight minutes of time added on gave the Trojans the opening they needed, and Bryant Alvarado capitalized on a mistake in the Weiser defense to poke in the equalizer midway through that extra time.
Neither team scored in the extra 20 minutes of play, despite opportunities aplenty, sending the match to the lottery of penalty kicks. Wendell scored all four of its kicks – it didn’t need the fifth – with Weiser missing one and having its last saved by Trojans goalkeeper Daniel Cruz.
What ensued was a maelstrom of jubilant players, coaches and fans converging at midfield as they reveled in the most miraculous of escapes.
“That’s the mark of the character of this team. They never got down on each other, and they kept fighting and believing,” said Wendell coach Jonathan Goss. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Few will have. Almost to a person, fans, players, coaches, referees, adminstrators, all milled around with expressions of disbelief at what they had just witnessed. Even one of Wendell’s players, hugging Goss afterward, kept repeating, “We did it, Coach. We did it,” as if he had to convince himself it was actually real.
It’s as real as the task that now awaits the Trojans Saturday at noon: undefeated Sugar-Salem, which stands in the way between Wendell and its second championship in program history.
‘The last time we got to the championship, we had to get there in a shootout,” Goss said. “Then, we went and made history.”