HS Boys Soccer: Highlanders Secure a 3-2 Win in the Face of a Ferocious Fight from Caney Creek

By: Jake Wilson
| Published 02/06/2024


THE WOODLANDS, TX -- The Woodlands Highlanders (10-1-3) overcame a tremendous effort from the visiting Caney Creek Panthers (7-6) to snag a 3-2 win that keeps the Highlanders as the top team in the district.

From the opening whistle, the Highlanders set out and dominated the beginning of the match. A rock-solid passing game set up players in excellent position for forward momentum, and the strikers took shots at will from inside Caney Creek’s half.

The constant pressure and possession from The Woodlands allowed the team to pepper the goal with shots. The strong opening salvos eventually resulted in goals, with the first coming in less than 10 minutes.

Instead of coming off the gas and draining the clock, the Highlanders shoes to push the advantage and scored another goal at the 11-minute mark. The back-to-back goals from Orlando Diaz and Brian Nwugbana punctuated the oppressive gameplay from The Woodlands to start the match.

In an exclusive interview with The Woodlands Online Sports, Highlander Head Coach Jason Fanning spoke about his surprise at the team’s rapid start but noted the drop-off that followed.

“Every time we score early, it's pretty exciting,” said Fanning. “I’m disappointed that we took our foot off the gas following that.”

What followed the quick goals was a defensive war that focused heavily on dispossessing the opponent for counterattacks.

Caney Creek benefited from the switch, as their game plan was predicated on intercepting Highlander passes and generating quick offense. The Woodlands accelerated the counters by letting their fundamentally sound passes become riskier and less proficient.

Breakaways by the Panthers required the Highlander back line to catch up, and their efforts resulted in penalties outside the box. Set pieces were another defining trait of the Caney Creek attack, with their first goal coming off a well-placed free kick.

All of the goals in the first half came in under 20 minutes, and the blistering pace came to a screeching halt as the half ticked on.

More attempts at counters from Caney Creek kept the pressure high against the Highlander defenders. But, the line held and prevented the Panther attackers from drawing even as the first half closed with the Highlanders up 2-1.

The changes toward a defensive match carried over to the second half but with a greater focus on Caney Creek’s possession. The Panthers resumed their high-intensity attack by pressing position into the Highlanders’ half, squishing the defense down to one side of the field.

The crowded side of the field meant Highlander defenders had issues effectively communicating when it mattered most. Defensive lapses gave the Panthers enough of a window to take shots on goal, but they were turned away by keeper Ryan Mulbrecht each time.

Despite their best effort, The Woodlands’ defense could not withstand the withering press given by Caney Creek for the remainder of the half. A shot to the back post on another Panther free-kick found the back of the net, and the teams were deadlocked at two goals apiece.

“We had to deal with the psychological aspect of highs and lows,” said Fanning. “We always try to preach keeping it even, but the pendulum was swinging too much today.”

Wanting to snatch the victory, Caney Creek continued to press against the flat-footed Highlander squad. More attempts at goal upped the tension on the field, with both teams searching for the knockout blow.

The Panthers had their chance to fully swing the momentum pendulum to their side when an attacking player went down inside the box and drew a penalty kick. The calm, cool, and composed Mulbrecht stared down his opponent and saved a shot to the right post. The monumental save kept the Highlanders afloat and kept the team’s hopes intact.

The Woodlands attack found some juice after refocusing their passing game to push attackers upfield. Caney Creek had to adjust their defense on the fly but failed to do so in time, giving up a free kick just inside their half.

It was The Woodlands who benefited from a set piece for the first time in the match, as a well-placed through ball led to a shot and goal from Cole Baptist at 64 minutes. The score put the Highlanders ahead 3-2 and recaptured some of the first-half momentum the team had been sorely missing.

Caney Creek was forced to revamp their attack if they hoped to even the score again. Short, efficient passes kept possession in their control, and the rapid pace of the wings threatened an attack at a moment's notice.

Multiple Panther attempts to score from set pieces and crosses worked near the goal but sailed past the mark. The last-ditch attempts to bring ten players into the box ended with Mulbrecht stepping up again with a clutch save.

All attempts from Caney Creek stopped with the final whistle as the Highlanders battled through adversity to claim the 3-2 victory.

“We love adversity,” said Fanning after the win. “We welcome it because when we overcome it, we achieve.”

The Woodlands win keeps the team situated at the top spot in the District 13-6A standings ahead of their road matchup against Willis on Friday. Meanwhile, the Panthers will look for a bounce back against the struggling Oak Ridge War Eagles at home.

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