Almost a week later, Destrehan coach Jhovanny Santamaria he was still recovering from his Wildcats’ 2-1 District I second-round soccer playoff loss at second-seeded Mandeville Thursday. The Skippers (19-2-2) had outscored their opponents this season by a combined 64-5 margin and have been nationally ranked by at least one publication. Mandeville had also bested Destrehan 4-0 in a previous matchup this season.
But visiting Destrehan wasn’t fazed. The Wildcats went into halftime tied 0-0 with Mandeville, and five minutes into the second half, Seth Danna scored a goal to put Destrehan ahead 1-0.
At the match’s 55 minute mark, Mandeville’s Taylor Morise scored a goal on a header to tie things up.
That’s how the score remained until stoppage time, when the Skippers’ John Nicklas scored just before time expired to lift his team to a 2-1 win and into the state quarterfinals. That goal came with the Skippers down a man, after a Mandeville player received a red card and was ejected.
It was a bittersweet end to the season for a Wildcats team that began 0-2 but surged to a 14-7-5 record and to the brink of advancing to the quarterfinals.
“People were saying we were going to go there and play back, play defense,” Santamaria said. “We attacked. We put a lot of pressure on their defense to stay back. We doubled their players when they had the ball, sometimes we’d send three. The boys followed our gameplan. They did a tremendous job.”
Santamaria said he told his team to keep their heads held high when they left the field.
“This was a game that could have gone either way, truly,” he said. “We went into this game with a lot of confidence. We felt we could compete with anyone and I think we proved that. The seeding, the numbers, they don’t mean anything to me. Mandeville beat us 4-0 in a tournament, but the playoffs are a completely different animal. It comes down to how you prepare and concentrate.”
The stoppage time goal, the coach admitted, was a tough pill to swallow, given the Wildcats were so close to pushing the contest to overtime and a potential victory.
“By my count, we were probably at 41 and a half minutes (when the goal was scored) … I thought we should have already been in overtime,” Santamaria said. “Take nothing away from Mandeville. We play until the whistle blows.”
While proud of his team’s performance, Santamaria said he can’t help but wonder what might have been after such a close loss.
“We struggled early this season, but we really came together,” he said. “We finished the season strong and carried that into the playoffs. This one could have gone either way.
“The hard part is, I really felt going in, ‘if we beat Mandeville, I don’t see anybody stopping us the rest of the way.”