Foster boys soccer head coach Robert DeStefano raised his voice in the break between overtime periods to refocus his team during Thursday’s Region III-5A quarterfinals match.
The Falcons had a short-lived lead washed away by a Sharpstown goal in the 90th minute.
“Flush it,” DeStefano said. “We’re going to get the ball upfield. We’re going to score.
“We’re going to win this game.”
In the end, he was right.
The Falcons won a penalty kick shootout 3-1 over Houston Sharpstown at The Nest, following 100 minutes of play which ended with the teams tied 5-5.
“That was the most incredible game I’ve ever been a part of,” DeStefano said.
“Sharpstown is an incredible team; they have players that are out of this world.
“We found out early that we were not going to possess against this team, and the game turned into a track meet.
“We talked about it: we’ve been in games like this all year. These guys know how to take the punches, and they know how to dish them out.
“They did something that has never been done here at Foster High School. We’re out of Round 3; we’re in the regional semifinals.
“I’m proud of this team.”
The Falcons sprinted onto the field after the Apollos’ final kick ricocheted off the crossbar to swarm junior goalkeeper Ezekiel Cerda.
Cerda stopped two kicks during the shootout and blocked another during overtime that could have sent Foster home early.
“Oh my God, Ezekiel Cerda is an incredible keeper,” DeStefano said. “The save in overtime and two, three saves during the penalty shootout; it was an unbelievable effort.”
The final penalty kick was a perfect end to a heavy-weight prizefight between two high-quality soccer teams.
Foster and Sharpstown went blow for blow in front of enthusiastic fans in a sold out stadium (at its current COVID-19 protocol capacity).
Fans that couldn’t snag a ticket encircled the stadium to watch through the fence or on top of cars.
Those fans saw Sharpstown grab the momentum early with a goal two minutes into the match.
But five minutes later, junior Nicholas Arellano tied the game at one.
Arellano picked up pass 50 yards from the goal, headed the ball forward twice to keep it in front of him, and snapped a shot past the keeper once he reached the penalty area.
Arellano nearly missed scoring his second goal with a header that glanced off the post a minute later, but Foster was able to take a 2-1 lead in the 11th minute.
Senior Kevin Vallone settled down a long pass and put the ball forward to senior Numan Osagie, who didn’t miss.
Sharpstown tied the match in the 17th minute.
Arellano answered again.
A corner kick was deflected to the junior’s feet and he hammered it into the back of the net in the 21st minute.
Foster’s spirits were high at halftime with a 3-2 lead.
But Sharpstown quickly dashed those emotions with back-to-back goals in the 45th and 46th minute.
In a blink of an eye, Foster went from playing with a lead to the Falcons needing a goal to keep their playoff hopes alive.
It was no surprise who would come through to tie the match: Kevin Vallone.
Arellano tossed the ball toward Vallone in the 71st minute; the senior Falcon leaped and twisted his body backward toward the goal.
Vallone got enough of the ball and redirected it into the net.
The match went to overtime tied at four.
“I’m really proud of the guys and the heart they showed. They didn’t quit,” DeStefano said. “They were down a goal with 10 minutes left and found a way to put it in the back of the net.”
Foster appeared to have the overtime goal it needed in at the 86th-minute mark.
Sharpstown was called for a handball, and sophomore Ruben Pulgar converted the penalty kick.
But the Apollos wouldn’t go away.
Sharpstown scored in the final minute of the first overtime period and nearly added another in the last seconds.
Four minutes into the second overtime period, the shoe was on the other foot for Foster.
The Falcons were called for a handball in the box, and Sharpstown earned a penalty kick.
A goal likely put the Apollos through to the next round with both teams nearing empty on their energy levels.
But the Falcons goalkeeper blocked the attempt, and Foster’s hopes for Round 4 remained.
Cerda stepped up again after the match went to penalty kicks.
Osagie scored on the first kick for Foster, and Cerda saved the first Sharpstown shot.
The same happened in Round 2: Vallone converted and Cerda stopped the Apollos shot.
Arellano’s first attempt was blocked, but the keeper was called off his line. Arellano put Foster up 3-0 with his second attempt.
Sharpstown stayed alive with a successful kick and a save, but a missed kick in Round 4 ended the roller-coaster match.
In the third regional quarterfinals match in program history, the Falcons advance to Round 4 for the first time.
Foster (18-5) advances to play either Kingwood Park or Pflugerville Weiss, who will have played on Friday night.
Friendswood, Pflugerville Hendrickson or Austin Anderson await the winner of the regional finals.