By Nick Talbot
Harker Heights Herald
CORSICANA - Longview coach James Wright only had one regret Tuesday - he didn't bring up Leo Perez to varsity sooner.
Perez, who was just promoted to the Lobos' varsity squad three games ago, scored all three goals Tuesday for Longview in its 3-2 win over Harker Heights in the Region II-5A bi-district matchup at Tiger Stadium.
"Yeah, I think I do (regret it)," Wright said. "It wasn't like we didn't know he could play, it was just making sure that he was getting playing time … if I knew he was going to do this - absolutely."
Despite Perez's outburst, Heights struck first in the game that was delayed by more than two hours by the storms that swept through North and Central Texas on Tuesday.
Heights scored off a header by Ethan Roden following a free kick by James Mataska in the 6th minute of the game.
But after that, Perez took over.
Longview's Stephen Bradley and Eduardo Barren both headed the ball unsuccessfully, but Leo Perez stepped up and knocked it into the goal to tie the match three minutes later.
Perez then put the Lobos up with six minutes left in the half when he slid in feet first and put the ball past Heights goalkeeper Nick Merutka.
"We weren't covering backside," said Harker Heights coach Jared Cruddas. "We were just ballwatching. We were just staring at it, just watching the runners come through and they were hitting the outsides pretty easily and … picking us apart."
With time winding down in the half, Perez made his biggest impact.
Jose Corona threw the ball with less than 10 seconds left in the half. The toss took a strange hop around a pair of Knight defenders and bounced to the foot of Perez, who back kicked it into the goal for his third of the night.
"I think he just has a natural eye for the goal," Wright said. "He knew he was part of this starting lineup and his position relies on him scoring goals. I have two or three other guys who run around and look busy."
Jesus Soto nearly added another goal in the 57th minute, but the ball bounced off the far post and back into the hands of Merutka.
Harker Heights forward Angel Pulido got a solid shot on goal with less than 10 minutes left in the game, but Longview goalkeeper Miguel Cabrera made a diving save.
With a minute left, he did score, though, getting a second-chance opportunity after Mike McNamara knocked around into the goalkeeper and allowed Pulido to get the bounce-back goal.
Heights nearly tied it as time expired after Merutka sent a long free kick into the box that bounced off Roden's head and sailed just high of the goal.
"It is just rough," Cruddas said. "The guys put their heart out there on the field. You just come around with an empty feeling in your stomach. You don't know if the delay had an effect. Once the whistle blows we had to start playing."