With the belief they could have won it all, defeat hit much harder for the Southeast Whitfield High School Raiders on Tuesday night.
The Raiders fell to Oconee County on the final penalty kick in the Class 4A semifinals at home. With each team scoring one goal in a 15-minute overtime period, the Warriors defeated Southeast in penalty kicks, 3-3 (5-4).
A senior-heavy roster was seen in tears following the game, many hugging tightly to help ease the pain. Many in the group had seen their team win a state title two years ago when they were sophomores, and this time they wanted it for themselves.
"The hardest part is knowing all the hard work that they have put in and thinking that we really could have gone all the way," Southeast coach Hector Holguin said. "It just wasn't our night, but as a first-year coach I couldn't ask for anything better."
Southeast had a goal from Julian Hernandez in the first half and Angel Hurtado shortly after the second half began to give the Raiders a 2-0 lead. Oconee County responded with a goal minutes later and one more before the game was tied at the end of regulation, 2-2.
Senior Leo Rangel gave a jolt to the Southeast bench and stands with his goal with less than three minutes into overtime. But, the Warriors kept fighting and responded once again to send the game into penalty kicks tied at 3.
"We'll give it to Oconee. They played their game," Holguin said. "The way that I told our guys that Oconee would score, they did. You have to give them credit to be down and keep coming back. They just never gave up and they were the better team tonight."
Southeast (17-6, 6-0 in Region 6-4A) ends its season after winning its second consecutive region title this season. Oconee County advances to play for a state championship later this week.
As difficult as it was to watch his players become so emotional, Holguin said he has faith they will come together for one another.
"Seeing them upset hurts, but it is part of the game," he said. "It's also part of life. We are going to have our ups and downs, but at the end of the day a real man is always going to stand up. That's what we have been preaching, so we're going to be alright."