Holy Cross had its band, cheerleaders, mascot and a much larger crowd in attendance for its first appearance in the Division II boys soccer state championship Friday night.
But in the end, St. Thomas More had what counts most: more goals.
The Cougars won their second state championship in program history with a 1-0 win over the Tigers at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans.
“(Holy Cross) outplayed us; they definitely did,” St. Thomas More coach Casey Friend said. “The team talk was, ‘Can we hold on? Can we play with as much heart and intensity?’ ”
St. Thomas More put a ball in the back of the net for a lead it would never relinquish when game MVP Ronny Rodriguez put a cross into the back post that Josh Toomey was able to head into the goal in the ninth minute.
Rodriguez said he barely could tell what was going on and wasn’t even trying to find Toomey on the cross, but he was pleased with the way the play turned out.
The rest of the night was spent trying to keep out a Holy Cross equalizer for the Cougars, who shifted to a more defensive formation despite their usual tendency to pile up goals.
St. Thomas More outshot the Tigers 13-5 through 80 minutes, but that included the Cougars’ 10 first-half shots.
“I kind of played for the 1-0. Nearly gave me a heart attack, but the boys held on to it,” Friend said. “They played with heart, and they wanted it. Our offense got us here, but our defense won us the championship.”
While Friday night marked the fourth time the Cougars reached the state final, it was the first such appearance for Holy Cross, which before the season had never survived past the playoffs’ second round.
The Tigers threw everything they could at St. Thomas More in the closing minutes, putting several close tries across the front of the goal, but it wasn’t enough.
With about two minutes left, Holy Cross had an attempt on goal with a free kick from about 25 yards, but the Tigers couldn’t lift it over the defense.
The Tigers’ final attempt to send the game to overtime was on a corner kick that Miles Johnson headed directly into St. Thomas More goalkeeper Landon Sellers’ arms.
Sellers made two saves. Holy Cross freshman Thomas Dugal stopped six shots on goal.
“It was just trying everything we can, even the kitchen sink,” Holy Cross coach Luke Sheekey said. “Just get it, give it our best and hopefully the ball would drop for us. Unfortunately, it didn’t tonight.”