MIDDLETON — The Bliss High School boys soccer team played well enough to win a state championship, but it wasn’t the Bears’ day.
Bliss fell to Weiser 2-1 in Saturday’s rain-soaked 3A state title game. An injury and a bunch of unlucky breaks prevented the Bears (16-3) from earning their first state-sanctioned championship in program history.
“I still think after that game that we were the better team,” Bliss coach Dustin Henkelmann said. “We created so many more chances. Weiser just did better with the chances they had.”
Henkelmann made a significant change going into the state tournament. Senior midfielder Armando Cordoba, who led the Bears with 26 goals on the season, was moved to defense in hopes of fortifying the back line early in each game.
Cordoba’s teammates had no trouble picking up the goal-scoring slack.
Junior Steven Rubio came into Saturday’s game with five goals in two state tournament games. He netted his first goal in a 2-1 win over previously undefeated Sugar-Salem on Thursday, and he scored four in Friday’s 5-1 semifinal win over Snake River.
Rubio took just 90 seconds on Saturday to score his sixth goal, which was set up by a perfect through ball.
One minute later, Rubio again beat the defense on a through ball and had just the goalkeeper to beat, but freshman Dylan Miranda was there to make the save. Bliss senior Fernando Marez was there for the rebound, but Miranda stopped that, as well.
Bliss had several more good looks in the first half, most notably the 17th minute. Once again, Miranda stopped a Rubio shot and a Marez attempt on a rebound.
Weiser responded when senior Cristian Sanchez scored. A game that could have been 3-1 was tied up.
In the 33rd minute, Rubio had another good look on a through ball, but he collided with Miranda near the edge of the box. Both players stayed down for a couple minutes but got up under their own power. Miranda stayed in the game, and Rubio exited.
Rubio’s head hit Miranda on the play, and the collision left Rubio with a bump on his forehead. He was administered by Idaho High School Activities Association officials at halftime, and he underwent concussion tests.
Rubio missed the rest of the game.
“Was not devastated because we had a deep bench,” Henkelmann said. “I was very sad for him that he couldn’t finish out the game. I think that’s something guys are gonna remember when they look back on this game.”
Sanchez scored again in the 51st minute, and Henkelmann moved Cordoba up to forward. The Bears needed a goal, and their star striker was sitting on the bench in pants and a sweatshirt.
In the 62nd minute, Cordoba and Miranda collided in the box, which netted a penalty kick for Bliss. Cordoba took the kick and fired up the middle. Miranda stayed put. The ball rolled away, and Miranda was able to clear it before Cordoba could attempt another shot.
Bliss had a few chances after that, including a great look on a corner kick in the 75th minute. Cordoba lined up the kick and found sophomore Kevin Tellez, who lined up a header. The ball bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Tellez’s near miss was the last good chance Bliss had in the game.
“As little kids, we’ve always dreamed of winning state,” Cordoba said. “We had the chance, but it just couldn’t happen.”
Bliss is a co-op with players from Bliss, Glenns Ferry, Hagerman and Shoshone high schools. The Bears added players and Henkelmann, an English teacher, from Shoshone last season. Cordoba is one of the Shoshone players, and he was arguably Bliss’ top player this season.
Henkelmann handed the second-place trophy to Cordoba after the game. “It’s yours,” he told him.
“They never had the chance to play high school soccer. The co-op gave them that chance,” a tearful Henkelmann said of his players. “To get this far and not make it, it’s hard on all of them.”