Madison County’s boys’ soccer team rallied from a 1-0 deficit to down Stephens County 3-1 on the road Friday, before falling 5-1 at Johnson Tuesday.
Three Raiders — Joey Sandres, Luis Herrera and Jesus Sandres — scored goals in the second half against Stephens, while Oliver Espinoza and Joey Sandres recorded assists.
“Stephens County was an interesting, frustrating and joyful game that I don’t want to repeat,” said Madison County head coach Daniel Joyner. “I only had 13 players to use during the game instead of 19 like I normally have with me. That presented a big challenge for us before the match even started. I was missing some key starters due to injury, red card suspension and my keeper playing in a tournament in Alabama in front of lots of scouts. Even with all of these things going against us I was still confident in my team.”
Joyner said his team didn’t look focused “or even mentally present” in the first half as they fell behind 1-0.
“Our halftime talk, where the boys heard some of my passion and they expressed their own, woke us up to the dilemma we were in,” said Joyner. “At the start of the second half my team came alive and started playing the level of soccer that we are capable of playing. We started to communicate and build our attack. We created multiple opportunities to score and we were able to put three goals into the back of the net before the end of the game. Winning 3-1 isn’t the outcome that I wanted, but I was happy to walk away with a win after a really heart-wrenching first half.”
The coach said backup keeper Bret Fitzpatrick played a great game.
“It was his first real game of competition as a keeper for us and he did a great job,” said Joyner. “He gave up a goal but he made multiple saves to keep us in the game during the first half. He has improved during the course of the season and he has great potential to become a talented keeper. I’m glad to have him on the bench as my backup.”
Joyner said his squad is still eyeing a possible state playoff berth.
“We’ve only got two more region games before the state playoffs starts and we’re excited about the possibility of being the first Madison County soccer team to make it to state,” said Joyner. “We’re knocking on the door of the playoffs and the boys are fired up about making that goal become a reality.”
Against Johnson, Luis Herrera scored the Raiders’ lone goal off of a penalty kick, a goal that gave him the Madison County single-season scoring record at 19.
“We lost the game to a great team last night,” said Joyner. “I commend Coach (Brian) Shirley for the great work he is doing with his team and for the great season they are having. I hope that Madison County soccer can improve over the course of time so that we can get to the level of play that Johnson is at.”
Joyner said 95 percent of Johnson’s team plays soccer year-round, which is a huge advantage.
“Those boys play club soccer at high levels and they’ve developed into great players individually which leads to them playing great as a team,” said the coach. “My boys as a whole just aren’t that level yet. We have a good team and we can play great soccer. My hope is that we can play great soccer every game, every season and that’ll be possible when the caliber of soccer increases here in Madison County. There’s only so much development that can happen from January to April and that just isn’t enough if we want to compete at high levels against the other schools in our region. We need to train and play under the supervision of trained coaches year-round so that the development continues even in the off-season.”
Still, Joyner said he was proud of how his team fought.
“It showed great character from my boys for not completely throwing in the towel,” said the coach. “We need to regroup and prepare for our match against Eastside this Friday. It’s our senior night and the deciding factor for us regarding the state tournament. If we win, then we’ll go and that’s something that hasn’t happened for the program. Making the state tournament has been the goal for years and those players and coaches that have worked hard in the past have laid the groundwork for this team to make the tournament. I’m grateful for the effort that they have put into this program that has made this goal a very real possibility for us this year.”