POWDER SPRINGS -- As the clock wound down in the Class 3A boys soccer state championship game, it was the losing team whose fans seemed most vocal. Despite the result, a community still had so much to cheer for.
Coahulla Creek High School fell to Westminster 4-0 on Friday night in the title match at McEachern High School. With the result, the Colts (18-4-1) finished as Class 3A runners-up, ending the best season in program history. In doing so, the players brought together the community of Varnell in ways those closest with the team would have never expected.
"Our players see the love," Coahulla Creek coach Aurelio Jacobo said. "If anything, I think we've brought a lot of people to the soccer program."
Westminster scored all four goals in the first half, and beyond a few long shots from Coahulla Creek, Westminster seemed to control the entire game. Coahulla Creek was without leading scorer senior Francisco Medina, who was suspended due to a red card in the Colts' Elite Eight game. However, Coahulla Creek players held a much larger Westminster team scoreless in the second half.
Karen Corley, an assistant coach with the Coahulla Creek girls soccer program, has served as the unofficial "team mom" to the boys program for the past three seasons. A 10th-grade English teacher at the school, Corley assists with the team wherever she is needed.
During the team's playoff run she said she's been amazed by the outpouring of support for the players.
"We wanted to put together a team meal for the boys before the first playoff game, and I think coach said we had about $200 in the team account," Corley said. "And we still had a banquet to pay for."
On a suggestion, Corley sent an email to teachers at Coahulla Creek, asking if any would be willing to sponsor meals for particular players. Within 10 minutes she had 10 players sponsored, and within 20 minutes the entire team and coaching staff was covered. As the team kept winning, other teams at the school, including the wrestling and baseball teams, donated money to help pay for pre-game meals.
What started out as simply trying to cover costs quickly turned into much more, and what occurred earlier this week, left Corley in tears.
"I was called out of class and told that there was someone who wanted to anonymously donate $500," Corley said. "I was stunned. Well the next day, I was running around upstairs trying to take care of something, and another teacher in the school came in with her husband and handed me a check for $1,000 for the program. I just immediately started blubbering."
Corley said additional donations from anonymous individuals and businesses within the community came in, unsolicited, over the past week. Several stated specifically that if the players needed anything, all they had to do was ask.
"It's just amazing," Corley said. "They really brought this entire community together."
The outpouring of financial support, in addition to the vocal support from the stands has helped drive the team, Jacobo said.
"When I heard about the money, I couldn't believe it. It was huge for us," Jacobo said. "With us getting this far I think it puts a good picture in front of everybody, because we're gonna have this same team out here next year."
Coahulla Creek players wept after the game, and several laid on the ground following the final whistle. The magical season came to an end, but even through the tears, the players looked toward the stands with pride. After all, history was made as this was the first Coahulla Creek team to play for a state championship.
"It's incredible," Coahulla Creek junior midfielder Emmanuel Arredondo said. "For our fans to drive all the way down here just to support us, it meant so much. We did everything this season for us and for the fans."
Coahulla Creek returns nine starters next season, and as the team prayed together following the game Jacobo said he was thankful for the opportunity to coach this group of players who also won the school's first soccer region title. He said he didn't want the team to define its season by Friday's night's outcome, and pointed toward the bright future of the program.
Coahulla Creek's fans consoled their players as they walked toward the team bus, and the second-year coach was mobbed with hugs from his family as he left the field. Even in defeat, the coach was both grateful and optimistic while staring at the Creek faithful still in the stands waiting for their team.
"It's gonna hurt, it's gonna hurt for a while," Jacobo said. "I want our guys to see how big of an accomplishment this season was, because it was the biggest it's ever been. I never get bored coaching these boys. I think the older this program gets, the more talent that will come out, and it's only going to get bigger."