Mac's dreams crushed
The Grizzlies had just lost 3-0 in the 6A state quarterfinals vs. Lincoln. The conversation was muted while it sunk it that Mac was done for the season.
On the other 40-yard line, Lincoln players and coaches gathered. The mood was light and jovial.
The two teams stood 20 yards apart, but they were worlds away.
“It stings, it hurts. Kids are hurting right now,” Autencio said, “but if it didn’t hurt, they’re not competitors.”
The Grizzlies (13-3-1) were silenced Saturday by a team doing exactly what Autencio predicted last week it would take to stop them. Lincoln was skilled both athletically and soccer wise and used a pestering defense to take Mac out of its game.
“Our team has made a commitment with our defense,” Lincoln coach Billy Merck said. “That’s been the case all year. We knew the success would come if we defended well.
“It’s frightening the ability (the Grizzlies) have. They’re goal scorers.”
The Cardinals (11-1-4) frustrated Mac the entire match, stopping breaks before they got too close to their goal. Mac usually cut through opponent’s defenses with precision passing, but Saturday the Cardinals got feet on passes and poked them away, stalling drives.
“Probably one of the best defensive teams we’ve faced all year,” Autencio said. “Defensively they were tough. They were good. We would go on runs, and then we would make a pass, and they covered really well.”
The Cardinals struck first with 26:57 left in the first half. Mac goalie Miguel Perez-Flores made a great diving stop on a hard-struck ball from the top of the box, but Cole Peters was there to gather the rebound and kick it past the sprawled out Perez-Flores.
“Getting that first goal was huge because they had to adjust,” Merck said.
Mac had a few chances in the first half to equalize. Nicholas Autencio had a great shot with 12 minutes left in the half. Moises Diaz finally snuck a pass through the smothering defense to a streaking Autencio. Autencio went across the box from left to right and had set up Lincoln’s goalie, but he kicked too much of the turf on the shot, and the ball slowly rolled into the waiting arms of the goalie.
“We had two or three scoring opportunities early in the game,” the elder Autencio said. “If we capitalize, it’s a different game.
“Getting down didn’t help us much. After they got up, they started packing the back more, which made it even tougher for us.”
Just after the start of the second half, Lincoln was awarded a corner kick, and a perfect pass found the head of Ian King, who put it past Perez-Flores.
“It was our day today,” Merck said. “We executed where we needed to.”
The goal forced the Grizzlies to extend their offense even further, and Autencio moved a defensive player up with 25 minutes left in the match. He said players started getting away from what had got them this far.
“We started pounding the ball in and trying to loop over the top,” he said, “and we got away from what has worked all season for us, and that’s passing.”
The final blow came with 25:32 left in the match when Peters beat Perez-Flores to a ball in the box and was able to kick it over his head into the goal, giving Lincoln a 3-0 lead. The Grizzlies tried to find the cracks in the defense, but nothing came, and they were shut out for just the second time this season.
After the final countdown, which was vocalized by a large contingent of Lincoln fans, Mac players fell to the turf and sat there, unflinching in the cold air. Autencio said they would eventually get over the stinging loss and realize how much they accomplished this season. He said he surely has.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out,” he said, “and how much effort they gave us.”