Niles Dunnells sat back on the cold metal bench and clasped his hands in his lap.
He stared at the ground for a second.
Then looked up and then to the players leaving the field. His frustration had turned into disappointment. His hopes had turned into an afterthought.
Dunnells, who is in his 17th year at Ellison, has overseen more than 100 wins as a head soccer coach.
None of the losses, though, could have been as heartbreaking as Friday’s 2-1 loss to Belton.
The Eagles dominated possession. They took twice as many shots as Belton. In a one-minute span they had four corner kicks.
They took four free kicks from inside 30 yards.
Mohammed Balde got the ball five yards out and hit a left-footed shot past Belton goalkeeper Carlo Mosnia to give the Eagles (12-6-1, 6-4 8-5A) the early 1-0 lead in the 16th minute.
It was not enough.
Both teams missed scoring opportunities in the 23rd minute. Belton senior Keegan Valentino had a one-on-one with Ellison goalkeeper Matthew Charlton at the top of the box, but was stopped.
Then, Ellison senior Ryan Stuckey had a ball right at the post but overran it, missed the ball and fell into the net.
Mosnia got a hand on a free kick from Nathan Diederich in the 45th minute to keep Belton within a goal.
Two minutes later they tied the match, 1-1, off a corner kick headed into the goal by Timothy Williams.
Belton nearly took the lead two minutes later, but Valentino was ruled offsides. In the 60th minute, Belton took the lead. Hernandez got a through ball and dribbled, turned and shot it past Charlton.
It was not enough.
Despite the setback Friday, Ellison did have one breakthrough earlier this season.
Going into the season they were 0-20-1 against Harker Heights. Less than a month ago they snapped that dozen-year losing streak to Harker Heights with a 4-2 win at Eagles Field.
“At least we can say we beat them,” Stuckey said after the win. “That’s got to feel great for Dunnells cause he’s been here for a while.”
A win against Belton, though, will have to wait. Diederich and Balde are both back next season. But that gives the Eagles little solace today. They had Belton where they wanted them.
They probably even showed they were the better team on that night. For once, Dunnells could be honest with his team. He could use the old cliche that usually falls on deaf errors
“We were the better team. It is such a cliche to say that when you lose, but we held the ball and possession most of the game, and we don’t get the ball cleared out on a couple of mistakes and they capitalized on it,” Dunnells said after the game.
After the game, he tries to say that it was not the fact that his team was playing Belton. He wants to say that is a cliche. But he knows there is a shred of truth. KISD teams just don’t beat Belton often.
This was his best chance as a head coach at Ellison to get it done. His team is stacked, for once, and more than likely it is playoff-bound.
He has seniors he can depend on in Juan Pulido and Ryan Stuckey.
He has talented forwards Mohammed Balde and Nathan Diederich, and he has a goalkeeper that is on par with the district’s best in Matthew Charlton.
It was not enough. Not Friday. Not yet.
Instead, Dunnells was left at Ellison field Friday, sitting on a cold metal bench and staring off into the distance, wondering when it finally will be.
Contact Nick Talbot at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7569