HARKER HEIGHTS — The pressure was palpable for Harker Heights.
Win and they could control their own playoff destiny. Lose, and the future looked cloudy to say the least.
“It was all or nothing (tonight), that was our mind-set,” Knights senior forward Ethan Roden said.
Instead, the Knights flipped the script and put the pressure on visiting Temple, crowding around the Wildcats’ goalie box much of the night as Roden tied a school record with four goals and added three assists in a 9-0 blowout victory Tuesday.
“We wanted to pressure the ball ... second ball, third ball, fourth ball, we always want to have a white jersey around it, and we can definitely see that tonight,” Knights coach Jared Cruddas said. “We wanted to play.”
Joining Roden, two other Knights seniors — Tristan Huber and Jordan Foster — each added two goals each to the rout on Senior Night, while senior goalie Austin Sisler recorded five saves in the shutout.
“Every single one of my goals was because of my team’s pressure, not a single one was because I took it (myself), it was because I was in the right place where they were able to serve me up the ball,” Roden said. “It was definitely team work on all those.”
The win secured Harker Heights’ third consecutive playoff berth as the fourth seed in District 8-5A after Copperas Cove dropped a 2-0 decision to fellow playoff-bound Ellison also Tuesday. The Knights (14-8-3, 6-6-1 8-5A) now hold a 1½-game lead over the Bulldawgs with only one game remaining. Heights ends the regular season at first-place Waco Midway with a likely bi-district ticket to play 7-5A champion Midlothian.
But it all started with a beautifully arching 25-yard goal by Huber that seemed to hook back into the upper-left corner of the net past the arms of a surprised Jose Juarez inside the Temple net for a 1-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
“We were already hyped up at the beginning, and then Tristan’s goal was magnificent, very skillful ball, and that started the snowball (effect) from there,” Roden said.
Huber wasn’t done, though, as the Knights senior scored again nearly three minutes later, this time within five feet when a Wildcats defender tried to clear the ball inside of a crowded net but instead passed it to Huber, who to sent it screaming past a diving Juarez into the back of net.
“We let the ball bounce around in the back a lot and we didn’t clear it,” Temple coach Matt Corley said. “Credit to them, we took too long to clear it and they capitalized, and punished us and it got ugly.”
Heights continued to pressure Juarez as Roden headed a pass to Foster, who took a bounce and nearly bicycle-kicked it from 10 yards out into the back of the net for a 3-0 lead with 17:19 remaining in the first half.
That’s when Roden got in on the act, scoring on a deflection from Juarez on a shot attempt by Foster at the 14:38 mark and then using his left foot to send back a clear by the Temple defense 50 seconds later to give the Knights a commanding 5-0 lead just inside of the 14 minute mark of the first half.
“Our coach is always telling us, if you’re inside the 18, take a shot, and I didn’t feel any pressure on my back so I took a hard and low shot as best I could,” said Roden, who added two more goals in the 55th and 70th minutes, both coming with five to six Knights teammates clustered inside the Temple goalie box.
“(The pressure) just shows how much intensity we had in this game, how much everyone wanted it.”