Spartans first playoff trip since 2013 a short one
Josh Emslie fell to his knees, partly in disappointment and partly from exhaustion.
He'd just played arguably the best game of his high school career at Centennial.
Unfortunately, it was in a yeoman effort as it was also his last game as a Spartan.
Emslie stopped 18 shots as Midlothian bombarded the goalkeeper throughout the night. Only one shot slipped past him, but that was all the Panthers needed to win 1-0 in their Class 5A Region II bi-district soccer match at Burleson ISD Stadium Thursday night.
"Midlothian is a really good team. I expected to be really busy tonight," Emslie said with a forced smile.
"We couldn't ask for any more. He gave us a shot to win," said fellow senior Corin Seale.
The Spartans (11-6-7) were in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. It was also the first playoff game for their second-year coach Brian Boydstun.
"You can't say enough for what Josh did," Boydstun said. "He's had a couple of games where he's been on a different level, and tonight was one of them."
It was the 20th time this season Emslie and the Centennial defense held an opponent to one goal or less, including 11 shutouts. Justin Barnett scored the game-winner for the Panthers (16-6-2), whose defense limited the Spartans to five shots and posted their ninth shutout of the season.
Midlothian is in the playoffs for a third straight year and reached a regional final last season.
"You also can't say enough about our back defenders. They don't give opponents many chances to shoot straight on goal," Boydstun said. "Between them and Josh we have a really strong defense."
The Spartans outscored their opponents 53-19 as they turned around last season's 4-17-1 record. They were 5-2-7 in District 9-5A this season, finishing third after going 1-13 in league play a year ago.
"We showed people we're a lot better than a 1-13 team. I feel honored to be on this team," Emslie said.
"It feels good to be in my first playoff game. I walked into school and they had banners up for us. I'd never experienced that before, and it was great," Seale said.
The Spartans lose six seniors from this season's squad. Boydstun said he's thrilled they got to reach the playoffs and enjoy that feeling, but he's also excited about what the experience means for returning players.
"It's one of the best things for these seniors. They've been here since they were freshmen and not tasted success, and they deserve it," Boydstun said. "For them to get something for all that hard work, it's sweet.
"And those coming back, as a player you realize you can compete with any team on any given night."