David Garcia, on crutches, held aloft a Samantha Watkins jersey.
Around him his teammates danced, a celebration of a title won — and a promise kept.
Kaleb Jett stopped two shots in to help Kilgore to a 4-2 shootout victory over Bridgeport after a 2-2 draw to claim the Class 4A boys state soccer championship on Friday afternoon at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown.
“Wonderful, indescribable,” Bulldogs coach Austin Walker said of his feelings after the win. “It’s great, great. There’s not enough words that can tell you the feelings that everybody’s feeling out here.”
Yonaton Contreras, Elian Torres, Jesus Gonzalez and Raul Cedillo all scored on their shots while Jett made saves on the final two Bridgeport attempts in the shootout.
Cedillo’s shot clinched the Bulldogs’ first state championship, sending most of the team rushing out to smother Jett, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Garcia, a senior captain, broke his leg in the semifinal on Wednesday and was unable to participate in any dog piles.
After the match he and other teammates held the jersey of Watkins, a Kilgore girls soccer player who died unexpectedly in December and to whom the Bulldogs promised a state championship.
“I know she’s with us,” Garcia said earlier in the week. “She’s not here with us physically, but spiritually she’s with us.”
Said Walker after the game: “Thankfully we were able to make good on our promise and bring that home.”
Kilgore (21-5-2) went ahead early on goals from Wanya McIntyre and Elian Torres before Bridgeport (18-4-5) battled back with two goals before halftime.
The teams were then deadlocked through 70 minutes of soccer, including two 10-minute overtime periods, sending the match to a shootout.
The Bulldogs practice penalty kicks every day, especially after losing to Palestine in the state semifinals last year in a shootout.
Before Friday’s shootout, Walker brought his potential shooters together and asked who was 100 percent sure they’d make the shot. The five who raised their hands went out there and were good to their word.
Bridgeport went first and scored through Juan Amador before Contreras matched with his attempt.
Milton Iniguez and Torres then found the back of the net in Round 2.
Jett dove to his left to stop Jose Martinez’s shot and Jesus Gonzalez converted to give Kilgore a 3-2 advantage.
Jett, a junior, made nearly an identical save on the next attempt by Bulls backup goalie Jason Espinoza.
“Kaleb had two great amazing stops; kudos to him,” Walker said. “He stepped up big time.”
Then Cedillo’s shot thrashed into the net and Kilgore was crowned state champion.
“It’s hard to explain,” Walker said of the moment the Bulldogs won. “You’re excited you won, can’t believe you won all at the same time. It’s just crazy.”
The Bulldogs outshot the Bulls 25-10, though only 7-6 in shots on goal. Jett and Bridgeport’s Andrew Stotts made four saves apiece.
Kilgore was in the final after two straight losses in the state semifinals. Bridgeport was at state for the first time in the program’s second year competing in UIL.
Kilgore dominated early on and capitalized with two goals in the opening 13 minutes.
Wanya McIntyre put the Bulldogs on top when he headed in a looping cross from Jovany Gonzalez. McIntyre finished his freshman year with 10 goals.
Less than four minutes later, Kilgore went up 2-0 thanks to a powerful shot from Elian Torres. The sophomore scurried past a defender and fired home from an acute angle, his team-leading 25th goal.
“I thought we came out really on fire and strong,” Walker said. “We executed our game plan to perfection in those first 15 minutes.”
The Bulldogs threatened to score a third, with Torres having a couple good looks at goal, but it was the Bulls who scored next.
Bridgeport’s Amador beat his man and was taken down in the box to earn a penalty kick, which Miguel Olmos slotted into the back of the net with 14:06 left in the first half.
“We made the foul, so it was a penalty,” Walker said. “They deserved it, put it in and we just got into a track meet later on.”
Amador tied it at 2-2 three minutes later when he collected a pass from Jesus Aguilar and fired low past an onrushing Jett.
The second half, though scoreless, was not without opportunities for both sides.
Contreras had a shot on goal 15 seconds into the half but it was blocked. The senior captain scored 18 seconds into the second half of the semifinal on Wednesday.
Contreras had a couple more looks at goal in the half, the best coming when he cut inside the box from the right and fired with the outside of his right foot only for Andrew Stotts to parry it over the goal.
Bridgeport’s best second-half opportunity came when Amador shot from the right edge of the 18-yard box past Jett, who was coming out to block his attempt, but just wide of the far post.
In extra time, McIntyre had two shots that nearly gave Kilgore the state title.
With 2:42 left in the first half of overtime, McIntyre received a headed pass from Contreras and slammed it into the top left corner of the crossbar.
With 3:35 to play in the second half, McIntyre’s shot beat Stotts but Eric Aguilar slid in to clear the ball off the line to keep the game tied 2-2 heading to a shootout.
“Both defenses played really well throughout the game and I’m just happy our defense was able to hold up and use that bend-but-don’t-break mentality,” Walker said. “It was a little nerve-wracking, a lot of crazy back and forth and nervousness going on. It was exciting to watch obviously. The big thing was we pulled it off.”
NOTES: Palestine soccer coach John Absalom was honored at halftime for being named the UIL 2016 Coach of the Year after leading the Wildcats to the Class 4A state title last year. Palestine lost to Kilgore in the regional quarterfinals this year, but not before Absalom reached 500 career wins. ... Bridgeport’s athletic director and football coach is Shannon Wilson, who held the same position at Bullard from 2010-2016 and was a district rival of Kilgore for many years.