Camp Verde soccer coach David Miller is Mr. Automatic when it comes to qualifying for the state tournament. After all, he has led his Cowboy teams to 14 playoffs in his 16 years as coach.
What is just as glaring is the fact that in the last eight years, he has lost his first game in the tournament. He reversed that trend Friday.
In a showdown between two evenly match teams, it took everything the Cowboys had to secure a 1-0 victory over Show Low Friday night at Benedict Sports Complex in the Arizona Interscholastic Associations 2A quarterfinal game.
Three things have been different for Coach Miller’s team this season. One is the stellar play of unsung hero junior goalie Preston Maynard as he made stop after stop to keep his team in the game.
Maynard was under duress various times during the game, in the first half and to start the second half. Maynard put in work keeping the Cowboys from going down by stopping several shots on goal and none more crucial than in the last 10 seconds when Cougars were trailing by one goal and put an all-out assault on him to score a goal with five seconds left in the game, only to be called for touching the ball.
After one of the Cowboys kicked the ball did the official’s blow the whistle ending the game as Cowboy players screamed and danced with their parents and each other.
“I don’t know if he touched the ball or not,” Cougar Coach Chris Ellis said. “It doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, the referees made the call, but we had our opportunities to win.”
Coach Miller made timely substitutions keeping his players fresh. Camp Verde never lost control. Both teams played and laid hits on each other, but nothing more than just competitive soccer being played as both teams battled for the opportunity to play three-time defending champion Chino Valley. The Cowboys finally broke through scoring at the 71:38’ mark left in the game on a crossing goal by John Castillo.
“Brandon Cruz sent me a three ball,” John Castillo said. “I knew that I could get by the defender, and I got by him and saw the goalie to my far right, and I shot it to the opposite post, and it went through.”
One of the major adjustments the Cowboys made was the Cougars’ goalie would come out from the net and pick up the ball. At halftime, Coach Miller told his players to play wider and take the ball up the sides forcing the Show Low goalie to vacate the net more.
“It’s a huge win,” Coach Miller said. “Last time we were at state we got knocked out against these guys here by the exact same score, 1-0. It was nice to switch it around and have some payback. I think my boys out-played them throughout the game. I told the boys at halftime that we needed to push the balls to the corners, that the fields are short.”
Ezequiel Casillas set the tone by showing fight in himself and his team by getting two yellow cards and a red card. His fire has made him unable to play the next game against Chino Valley Saturday morning, but if Camp Verde advances to the championship game, he would be eligible.
“It is exciting. It’s who they wanted to play (Chino Valley); they didn’t want to play Blue Ridge; they wanted to play Chino Valley,” Coach Miller said. “It’s exciting to be there. I don’t know if Chino is. We are getting closer and closer each time we play them. We play each other very hard; they are well coached and a very talented team. It will be a good game.”
“It was a great game,” Show Low Coach Ellis said. “I knew even going into this when I saw the seedings this would be the toughest first-round game. The rankings don’t matter when it comes to the playoffs. I knew the game could go either way and based off that one play, they absolutely deserve to win the game.”
The winner of the Camp Verde-Chino Valley game will play for the state championship the following weekend.