Denton comes back to draw with Wichita Falls, win District 5-5A title

For the first time in eight years, Denton hoisted a trophy for winning a district title after beating a two-goal deficit to tie Wichita Falls 3-3 Monday night. The District 5-5A champions close the season two points clear of the competition and begin the playoffs next week.

“Everyone in our district predicted us to finish third,” senior Chris Torres said. “And look where we are now.”

Action started quickly when in just the fourth minute, senior Christian Rodriguez seemed to make an innocuous save. However, the spin got the better of Rodriguez, and he spilled the ball past the goal line and gave Wichita Falls an early 1-0 lead.

“I told someone before the game – I think I told Gio [Gonzalez], my other keeper – I told him, ‘Gio, something’s wrong with me,” Rodriguez said. “‘I don’t have any energy right now. I don’t know what it is.’ He was like, ‘I don’t know, man, you’ll be fine.’ So I go in and… the first half, I just feel like something’s wrong with me. And then finally, on the goal, I thought it was an easy scoop, but the way the ball was spinning, it just spun right out of my hands.”

The Denton response came quickly. Senior Zach Ardis delivered a ball from a corner kick past the Wichita Falls defenders and directly into the path of a leaping Feliciano Amaya. The senior’s header propelled into the net and tied the game at one in the tenth minute.

The Coyotes did not relent despite the restored parity on the scoreboard. After one of eight Bronco fouls in the first half, junior Josh McMath lined up for a free kick from near midfield and delivered a long ball into the box that junior Travis Collins got his head on and buried, re-establishing his team’s lead 15 minutes in. A corner in the 27th rolled into the box and past the dummy of junior Brandon Wright, setting up a shot for senior Nick Stevens. Stevens, a defender by trade, hadn’t scored all season before Monday, but he slipped the ball into the corner with the back heel flick anyway, making the lead two.

Denton struggled to capitalize on opportunities thanks to the goalkeeping of Daniel Gutierrez. The senior made six saves in the first half alone, including a diving stop from close range on Denton senior Rigels Diko in the 36th minute. The score remained 3-1 in favor of the visitors heading into the half.

“We weren’t playing our game,” Torres said. “Honestly, I was nervous from the get-go. I was in the warm-up, being nervous, just looking at the other side of the field.”

The Broncos’ fortunes immediately showed signs of change when they forced a free kick on the edge of the Coyotes’ penalty area three minutes into the second period of play. Torres proceeded to rifle the ball off the bottom of the crossbar and past a sprawling Gutierrez, cutting the Broncos’ deficit to one goal with plenty of time remaining.

“I practice it all the time,” Torres said. “I was like, ‘Just hit it, just like I know how to hit it, and it’ll go in;’ and we scored.”

For much of the remainder of the game, the ball would remain on the Coyotes’ end of the field, the Broncos not allowing their opponents any breathing room. Clearances out of bounds soon accumulated, bringing the number of Denton throw-ins in the second half to 16 by game’s end. However, Wichita Falls allowed only six shots, blocking two of them, despite playing on their heels for so long.

In the 68th minute, Denton found themselves on the defensive for once, but a deep clearance found the forward Amaya, who was alone against senior Garrett Martin on the opposite side of midfield. Amaya won possession and sped past Martin, letting loose a shot despite the defender’s continued duress. The ball rocketed past Gutierrez, who had come out of the goal mouth a few yards to cut Amaya off, and the score was again level for the first time in 51 minutes of play. 12 minutes later, the buzzer sounded, and the Broncos were District 5-5A champions.

I practice it all the time. I was like, ‘Just hit it, just like I know how to hit it, and it’ll go in;’ and we scored,”

— senior Chris Torres

“I came in there [during halftime], and I challenged them,” head coach Ryan Dunlevy said. “Everybody had kind of underrated them all year long. I challenged them; I said, ‘We don’t lose at home. We respond, and we go earn it.’ And that’s exactly what they did. They came out with a new fire, and they responded, and they worked to get it.”

Dunlevy, in his first season as head coach of the Broncos, accredits the championship to his players’ work ethic.

“The boys put hard work in all offseason long,” Dunlevy said. “They earned it in the offseason. They came out, and they executed; they did what they had to do to win it.”

Despite the deficit, Rodriguez had full confidence in his teammates.

“I never doubted my team for a second,” Rodriguez said. “I know it’s a team effort, but those goals, I could’ve prevented them, I could’ve had a better effort; but I just knew my team could do it. They have so much passion. We wanted it more than they did.”

Wichita Falls, 14-5-4 (10-2-2 in district, 32 points) heading into the playoffs, fall to third place with rivals Rider overtaking them in the standings Monday after a 5-1 rout of Azle. The Coyotes face the runners-up from District 6-5A in the first round.

The Broncos finish the regular season 16-2-4 (11-1-2, 35 points) Their Bi-district round opponent, the fourth-place team from District 6-5A, is unknown.

After exiting the playoffs in a 1-0 loss to Rider in the third round last year in which the Wichita Falls wind blew in a throw-in early on, the team’s seniors feel an extra bit of motivation to get the job done.

“We all knew as a team that we could’ve kept going,” Rodriguez said. “We were good enough as a team, and our chemistry was so great. We know we’re good enough to go far in the playoffs, in the state tournament. That goal was devastating on me, but I knew that I had one more year with my guys. Every game, especially in Wichita Falls, we look at that goal like that beat us, but this season that won’t.”