Kyler Darsey's joy was obvious. After he slotted the ball into the left side of the net for the Lambert boys soccer team's first goal against Collins Hill in its second-round state playoff game on Wednesday, the Longhorns senior jogged towards the student section with a wide grin, his arms outstretched. He then finished his celebration by cradling an imaginary baby.
After just under three minutes more of game time, with 24:52 to play, Darsey scored again, this time from a point-blank header, and Lambert was on its way to a decisive 3-0 win over the Eagles, which was capped by Tyler Nadiak's finish off a rebound with 17:30 left. This is what the Longhorns do.
"We always have the confidence, and we always somehow come out better in the second half," Darsey said.
And it was also reminiscent of a memorable game last year: Their state semifinal matchup against Campbell, where the Longhorns scored five goals in the second half in a game that looked dead even up to that point.
The reasons the Longhorns might gravitate towards winning games this way are varied. Longhorns head coach Chris Wilson thinks of them as an exceptionally well-conditioned team, with mostly players that play year-round and a practice schedule that incorporates extra rest days and work in the weight room. They're also just used to winning games this way: The knowledge that they've done it in the past fuels the confidence that they can do it again.
"Once we get that first goal, I feel like the floodgates open every single time," Darsey said.
But on Wednesday, they first had to hold up through the first half. Collins Hill brought an effective game plan, swarming multiple players to the ball and working across the face of goal, and the skill of Eagles attackers like Brian Alcantar was a tough ask for Lambert's defenders.
Longhorns goalkeeper Chris Smith had to make saves, although they weren't the type to bail out Lambert's defense completely, which was a positive sign of the Longhorns' control of the game. And Lambert had multiple close chances, including a clean look for Hayden Fontana against the goalkeeper that forced a sliding save. Fontana later had assists on the Longhorns' first two goals.
"I thought my boys did a great job in the first half of being composed and defending around the 18 (yard box)," Wilson said. "It kind of frustrated them when they kind of going lateral, side-to-side.
The Longhorns, who improved to 18-1-1 with the win, are set to face Hillgrove in the state quarterfinals at home next week.