The celebration was huge, loud and joyous on the sidelines of College Park Friday night at Buddy Moorhead Stadium.
Surviving the final day of District 13-6A men’s soccer and clinch a playoff berth was quite an accomplishment.
With four teams separated by two points and with three spots on the line, some might argue that College Park had the bigger challenge against Conroe in a two-team battle tied for third entry of the night.
The Cavaliers had to beat a team they had lost to earlier in the year and had to do it on their home field.
They did just that.
College Park advanced to the playoffs for the eighth straight year with a 2-1 victory over the Tigers.
Combined with Caney Creek’s 5-0 win in New Caney, Conroe is the odd team out of the playoffs.
“There are so many good teams,” said College Park sophomore coach Mike Jaskowiak. “Someone in this league isn’t making the playoffs and it’s unfair and it feels unfair. Because the league is so deep and every time we take on one of the teams like this, it’s just tear down, drag (game). Those guys gave everything they had today.
College Park (14-6-2, 10-4-2) finishes in third place and one point behind second-place Grand Oaks, who beat Cleveland 7-0 on Friday night.
Conroe (13-5-4, 9-5-2) was playing in his third straight playoff appearance.
“This means everything,” said College Park senior Alessio De Pippo. “This team fights 10 times more than any team I’ve been with in these four years. This is a great group of guys and we really think we can do something this year.”
De Pippo scored the decisive goal in the 49th minute.
But first, it was a 37th-minute goal – three minutes before the break – that set the Cavaliers on fire.
Eduin Funez fired home a shot from the top of the box that put the Cavaliers on the break with momentum.
“It meant everything,” De Pippo said of that 1-0 lead. “That was the spark we needed. Eduin: what a shot, what a bomb. This is what kept us going. That was great.
To make it 2-0, Cohen Rowe threw a pass into the center of the field to Funez. Funez put in a solid shot on goal, but Conroe goalkeeper Abisai Delgado parried it. However, De Pippo was there to clean up the rebuttal and score the 2-0.
“I had a feeling it was going to go on, so I just followed the show,” said De Pippo. “It was all Eduin and it was amazing.”
More than the first goal, Jaskowiak felt the second goal was the more important factor.
“Going up 2-0 was a really big deal,” he said. “We were hoping to keep it 2-0, but they got the penalty and stuff. You expect things to be a little smoother and they are not. You keep fighting it.
Conroe scored with seven minutes remaining.
On a handball in the penalty area, Raymond Pioquinto scored from a penalty past College Park goalkeeper Cameron Rains to put the Tigers within one.
“It’s just a testament to our players,” said Conroe coach Micahel Pistor. “We went down 2-0 and they never gave up, they never gave up and they kept fighting. They got the PK and were a goal away. We fought until the end and today we weren’t up to it. Guys never give up.”
College Park held on from there to secure the three points.
“Boys — we had a plan and we stuck to it,” Jaskowiak said. “They defended like crazy and really played for each other. It was amazing. It was fantastic. I’m really happy.”
The Region II-6A bi-district playoffs begin Thursday.
The fact that Tat Conroe went undefeated in 10 of his last 13 games is a testament to how tough the district was. The Tigers were in second place behind eventual champions The Woodlands on a couple of occasions.
“I’m so proud of them,” Pistor said. “This group of seniors was the first group I saw during the Peet vs. Washington game and for the past four years. They were among those other teams that made the playoffs.
“We fell a little short this year. But they’re just a great bunch of guys and I can’t wait to see all the great things they do after graduation as they head off to college and chase their dreams.