Cowboys pull off upset victory to advance to regional final

The No. 8 Brownsville Porter Cowboys are Region IV-5A final bound after knocking off the No. 2 Dripping Springs Tigers 1-0 on Tuesday.

On a team loaded with experienced upperclassmen, it was a freshman who scored the golden goal to lift the Cowboys to the upset victory. Midway through the second half, midfielder Alessandro Lara found the net on a free kick.

“It felt good. I’ve been practicing every day in practice, and thanks to God I got the opportunity and it went in,” Lara said through a translator, teammate Erick Esparza. “I feel happy. Since the first day we’ve been looking for this, to get to regionals and hopefully to get to state. I needed that goal because I haven’t been the same player I was in Matamoros, and when I scored that goal I felt like me again.”

The Cowboys had the edge in the first half as they attacked the goal often. Lara and Isaiah Garza played well in the midfield to keep possession on Porter’s side and spark offensive chances.

Julian Gallegos brought the energy from the first minute, and his speed challenged the Tigers. Brandon Montes and Erick Esparza added to the pressure Porter applied from the jump.

“We promised our administrators, our fans, that we were going to come up here and — even though they were ranked No. 2 in the state — we were going to fight until the end and we were not going to feel like the underdogs, and I think the kids came out and they did so,” Porter coach Jose Espitia said.

The Cowboys had good scoring chances during the first half. Jose Mateos sent one off the crossbar, and others went just wide or were stopped by Dripping Springs goalkeeper Jaxon Swanson.

Esparza, Wilver Chavez and Allen Lane provided tight defense for Porter and kept the Tigers unable to put together many scoring threats in the first half. When one did get through, Cowboys goalkeeper Isaac Acevedo was there with leaping grabs and diving saves to keep things scoreless at halftime.

Martin Gonzalez was another freshman who helped Porter grab the win. He stepped up to play a position he never had before, and Espitia praised his effort.

“Our best defender, Jose Machuca, he was out. The ball hit him in his eye, so he couldn’t play,” Espitia said. “(Gonzalez) had to go. He had never played center back, and he went out there and did a hell of a job, and he was able to help us go home with a win.”

The Cowboys were fired up on the sideline, determined to build on their strong start and finish at the net.

Dripping Springs came out strong during the second half and attacked with its offense. Adam Knutson led the way for the Tigers throughout the game, and Brenden Gajewski played well to aid an improved offensive effort.

Porter’s deeper arsenal of talented players proved to be the difference. The Cowboys were in sync and moved the ball well, and plenty of pieces on defense came up with good plays.

With 18:58 remaining in the game, a foul by the Tigers gave Porter a free kick around the 20-yard line. Lara sent the kick high and dropped it into the corner of the net for the winning goal.

Lara threw his hands up and was swallowed by teammates as the large Cowboys crowd went wild. Stellar defense and a constant high-energy effort maintained the slim lead for Porter, sealing the upset victory and sending the Cowboys to the regional final.

The Cowboys will face off with No. 5 Valley View at 7 p.m. Friday in Mercedes with a trip to the state tournament on the line.

“We’ve been telling the kids ever since the first day of practice, ‘Every day is a blessing,’” Espitia said. “Especially through the pandemic, we’re fortunate we’re able to have a season. We’ve been quarantined twice, and we’ve gone through so many things this season. It’s a blessing and it feels really good, words can’t explain. I’m proud of the kids.

“We know it’s going to be a tough game. Valley View has established itself as one of the@ powerhouses in the Valley. We respect them a lot in that aspect,” he added. “The main winner here is going to be the RGV because whoever wins is going to have the ticket to go to state and represent our area in the state tournament. We’re excited about it. We’re not satisfied, and I believe we can match up and go out there and compete for that ticket.”

ccruz@brownsvilleherald.com