South Stunner: Cougar Soccer Wins State

Lightning struck not once, but twice for the Salina South High School Soccer Team in the state championship game in Topeka Saturday evening. In a stunning upset, South won the state championship.

The Cougars, playing against perennial state power and the two-time defending state champion St. Thomas Aquinas Saints from Kansas City, trailed 2-1 late in the game.

As time was running out, and the Saints fans were roaring in anticipation of a third consecutive state title, lightning struck. It struck in the form of a header by senior David Palacios, with just 29 seconds left in the game. The ball careened into the net, tied the game, and sent things into overtime.

Lightning struck again for the Cougars as the first overtime period was winding down. The Cougars had survived several attacks to the goal by the Saints, and seemingly looked to by playing to simply survive the first overtime. But lightning struck again, this time in the form of a shot into the net by senior Jose Escobedo with just 53 seconds remaining. Escobdeo’s shot won the game, and set off a wild celebration both on the field and in the stands.

South never had the lead in the game, until the final shot in overtime.

St. Thomas Aquinas lead 1-0 at halftime. South tied it early on in the second half with a David Palacios goal, but the Saints quickly responded to get the lead back at 2-1. That’s how things stood, as the Cougars frantically tried to score again.

With time winding down, the Saints appeared poised to celebrate a third consecutive state championship. But the stunning shot by Palacios changed everything.

South Coach David Ouderkirk told KSAL afterwards that this was truly a team victory. “We knew it would take a huge team effort, and we never gave up,” he said just before he was doused with Gatorade by his team.

The soccer state championship is a first for Salina, the first ever for the Salina South Soccer program, and the first for any prep Salina soccer program.

Hummer Park in Topeka has been a good place for South to play state title games. The win Saturday is the third time a South team has won a championship there. Hummer Park is also the location of the last two Cougar state titles, football in 2004 and swimming in 2010.