Before the 2016 Bearden boys soccer team ever took the field, Coach Ryan Radcliffe knew they had the talent to be one of the best Bearden teams of all time.
What he didn’t know at the time was that the 2016 team would match the success of the 2006 state championship team that he starred on as a player.
After their 5-2 win over Ravenwood in Friday’s Class AAA state championship game, even Coach Radcliffe admits this version of the Bulldogs may be better than his own title team.
They’ve certainly cemented their own legacy and identity.
“I’ve told the boys all year, ‘I don’t want you to live in our shadows,” Coach Radcliffe said. “You’ve got the talent to be one of the best teams ever at Bearden.'”
For the first 40 minutes, it didn’t look as if Bearden would be able to capture their fourth soccer state title.
Ravenwood took a 2-1 lead into halftime after controlling most of the first half possession. It was the first time Bearden had allowed two goals in a half in 17 games.
The Raptors scored off a well-taken free kick just a minute into the game, but a Gabe Alvarez header midway through the first half leveled the score. Ravenwood responded to the Bearden pressure with some of it own to retake the lead.
Bearden trailed three times in its final two games of the season, but won both games by three goals.
“[Ravenwood] came out strong,” junior midfielder Will Lewis said. “We were just a little bit slow coming out, but then we regrouped at halftime and realized that we weren’t going to win the state championship playing like that.”
The second half was a different story than the first for the Bulldogs, as the momentum shifted when Lewis scored on a scramble after a corner to tie the score at two, four minutes into the half.
Bearden remained on the front foot, but couldn’t find its winner until Alvarez ripped a shot just inside the far post on a counter with 18 minutes remaining.
Senior Kelvin Garcia’s shot with 1:41 deflected off a Ravenwood defender into the net, and Alvarez completed his hat trick when he scored from midfield with five seconds left.
“It’s just overwhelming [to win a state championship].” Alvarez said. “We haven’t had the best of luck in my previous three years, but I’ve got to give it up to my teammates.
“Every one of the players gave it all this season, on the field, and cheering us on. It just feels amazing to be able to bring back a state championship and put Bearden back on track.”
Before this season, Bearden’s seniors had never advanced past the district tournament. But they were the driving force behind the Bulldogs’ 2016 success.
“The seniors mean everything to this team,” Lewis said. “The four guys, our three forwards up top, Jameson [Elmore] at attacking mid, and Alex [Garcia] is a rock in the center.
“We obviously couldn’t have done it without them. This senior class really brought this program back. This is their team, and they’re the ones that got us here.”
Added Coach Radcliffe: “For all of the seniors, it was really just their year. And it was fun to sit back and watch and be a part of it. They’re a very poised group.”
The seniors can be credited with getting Bearden soccer back to its former prominence, but also with capping off Bearden’s season in a dominant fashion.
11 of the Bulldogs’ 12 goals scored in the state tournament were by seniors, including three of the four in the second half on Friday to bring Bearden from behind to win.
“The last thing I said to them at halftime was, ‘If you want to win state, you have to work for it’,” Coach Radcliffe said. “And they came out and battled and got it done.
“When you win a state championship, it’s less about X’s and O’s and more about heart. And these boys have a lot of heart.”