Rivalry subdued as Hilton Head Island High tops Bluffton in tribute boys soccer tilt

ksalter@islandpacket.comMay 9, 2014 

This game wouldn't affect either team's playoff positioning, but you wouldn't have known it by the evidence of this contest.

Playing on the road, in a rivalry game, and for the memories of two lost friends, the Hilton Head Island High boys soccer team battled to a 3-1 victory over the rival Bluffton Bobcats on Thursday.

With each goal, the determination of the Seahawks players grew. The result may have not provided a corresponding bump in the standings, but this one was about much more than higher seeding.

"This team's headed in the right direction," Seahawks coach Wayne Quinlan said after the game. "It's good when the community comes out. They make it special. The best thing about this game was that two teams got together and proved that in Beaufort County you can have a rivalry without it turning sour. We did a lot of good things before, during, and after the game."

The score was an accurate reflection of the quality of play the visitors brought to the well-attended affair, but perhaps did not do justice to the dogged perseverance of the home team. Even down three goals late, the Bobcats charged into tackles, kept trying to create chances and did what they could to get back into the game.

On the occasion of one particularly welcoming opportunity that went awry, the Bluffton player pounded his fists into the turf in frustration as his header skied over the bar. It was that kind of night for the Bobcats, who were down 2-0 before the halftime whistle and with a chance at a reprieve, missed a penalty.

"These boys don't give up too often," coach Josh Fox said. "We can't start slow. That's our Achilles' heel.

Their struggles were due to the excellence of Quinlan's team, which he said has come together all season since the deaths of two former junior varsity players, Cesar Herrera, 17, and Cory Rocha, 18, in an automobile crash on March 28.

Thursday's game was played in their honor, with fans encouraged to donate to the victims' families. Both teams huddled in prayer before the opening whistle, and each goal celebration seemed to have a little extra excitement.

All three Seahawks goals were headed in, two from set pieces. The first came from a cross from the right side of the box, which sophomore sweeper Koben Barrientos put in just more than 10 minutes into the game.

The second came with 13:10 to go in the first half, in the form of a powerful header from a free kick. Senior captain Lalo Quevedo stormed into the penalty area and converted with pinpoint accuracy.

The Seahawks continued their push for supremacy after halftime, and their dedication paid off. This time it was another corner that did the trick. Senior attacker Eneo Torres swept in behind the defense to place a powerful header home at the back post.

"As a team, we wanted to do it for our friends," Torres said. "It was great. Before the game we prayed for our friends. I think we went out and we played a very good game and we did what we had to do."

Bluffton would get a goal back with just more than eight minutes to go, as senior midfielder Pablo Rios put the Bobcats on the board.

It was too little, too late. On this night, Hilton Head would claim bragging rights and a valuable boost of confidence heading into the playoffs.

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