When Lambert’s Tyler Nadiak finally scored the first goal of the Class 7A boys state championship game on Saturday night, the Longhorns exploded in celebration.
Their matchup with Lakeside-DeKalb had been a very even one, and the Longhorns finally had an edge with nine minutes left. The prospect of a second straight state championship began to seem more and more real.
With 6:45 left in regulation, though, Vikings finally got a shot into Lambert's net, tying the game up again at 1-1 and halting any premature thoughts of victory. To onlookers, the game began to draw striking parallels to girls title game that preceded it, a match those Longhorns lost in PKs. The boys didn’t want to share that same fate, and were preparing to do what they could to avoid it.
“I thought we were going to go into extra time when they scored,” Yeonsung Lee said. “Everyone was a little shocked. No one really expected them to score because they were all tired and we had most of the possession.”
Lee watched the Vikings’ equalizer from the bench, but with three minutes left in regulation, Lambert head coach Chris Wilson subbed the sophomore in to get a fresh set of legs into his tired midfield.
Not long after that move, the Longhorns got another scoring chance. With around two minutes left, Hayden Fontana found open space in the middle of the field, with Lee flanking him near the opposite sideline.
Fontana took his shot, but it was just off the mark, bouncing off the left post. The ball sailed towards Lee, who quickly began to weigh his options in his mind.
“I was going to shoot it (earlier), but it was a little high up in the air,” Lee said. “So I took a bad touch, and then I saw someone coming. I just shot it with my eyes closed. I didn't really think it was going to make it.”
Lee sent a booming kick off his leg, and when he opened his eyes, he saw the ball in the net. His first-ever playoff goal had given the Longhorns a one point lead with around a minute left. Lee had seen some scoring success earlier in the season, but entering the playoffs, he was in a bit of a cold streak.
“It makes me look like a genius, but it's all on him,” Wilson said.
The clock was on Lambert’s side from that point. The Longhorns did what they had to do defensively to secure the win in the game’s final minute, and after the horn sounded, they stormed the field in celebration of a 2-1 win, and a second consecutive Class 7A state title.
“You never want to think the game's over, but three goals in the last nine minutes, that's just unbelievable,” Wilson said. “All year long they have fought to the end, and once again, we're a second half team, who, no matter what, came back. I couldn't be prouder of them.”
Early in the match, Lakeside was attacking well, and Lambert was almost exclusively on the defensive. The Vikings were taking good shots from close and long range, and were maneuvering the ball really well.
“They couldn't hear anything I was saying, because I'm yelling to pressure the ball,” Wilson said. “You typically take a step back to defend because you think that's the safe thing to do. You invite all these services on goal.”
With the stellar performance that goalkeeper Chris Smith put together on Saturday, Lambert certainly had the luxury to do that. Smith leaped through the air for a diving save with 21 minutes left to the half, and throughout the game, he wasn’t afraid to move around the box if he needed to. If the Longhorns fell short of a title, he didn’t want to be the cause.
“I've been in that situation before, and that pain drove me the most to stop everything I could,” Smith said. “Even if it was almost impossible, I had to get there -- it wasn't an option. I had to be there for my team.”
With plenty of key seniors leaving, Lambert's team will be different next year. But after two straight titles, they've undeniably made a mark, and now, another championship trophy will serve as a reflection of that.
“I couldn't love them more than I do,” Wilson said. “Our nine seniors are the best group of kids we've ever had for four years. They deserve all the success they've gotten with back to back state championships.”