Benton head boys soccer coach Bryan George believes a big key to his Tigers’ success this season is his players’ unselfish attitude toward the game.
That was on display again Monday afternoon at Bossier’s Memorial Stadium. The No. 3 seed Tigers earned a spot in the Division II state championship match with a 4-1 semifinal victory over No. 10 East Jefferson.
Benton (16-4-3) faces No. 1 Holy Cross (25-4-2) Friday night at 7:30 at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond. Holy Cross, the three-time defending state champion, defeated No. 4 Ben Franklin 3-0 in its semifinal.
Benton had already made school history by reaching the semifinals for the first time. The Tigers made it to the quarterfinals for the first time two years ago.
“It’s a once in a lifetime-type opportunity,” George said. “It’s great to represent this parish. It’s great to represent our school. It’s something the boys take great pride in. We’re just blessed with the opportunity to have a chance at it.”
Benton will be the second team — and the first in 20 years — from Bossier Parish to play in a state championship game. According to a history of high school boys soccer in the state by Scott Crawford, founder of LaPrepSoccer.net, Parkway reached the Division II final in 2001, losing to St. Thomas More 3-1 at Independence Stadium.
Benton is the only non-select school to make it to a championship game in the four LHSAA divisions this season.
“That’s a testament in itself,” George said.
And it all comes back to that unselfish style of play that has helped the Tigers rack up 14 straight victories.
“What makes this group so special is their work ethic,” George said. “We go up a goal and they have the mindset and approach that it’s zero to zero. They play so well together and it starts from every guy on the bench to every guy on the field. Everybody plays their role. They’re unselfish. And it’s just the best team as far as group effort that I’ve ever been a part of. And it sure is something special. I’m truly blessed.”
Benton got off to a fast start against East Jefferson (6-8-4), which upset No. 2 St. Thomas More in the semifinals.
The Tigers scored two goals in the first 10 minutes. The first came on a cross from Logan Smith to Devin Ryan for a tap-in.
“It was a beautiful cross, unselfish ball,” George said. “Devin just found the back of the net and put it away.”
A few minutes later, Smith scored on an assist from Nolan Anderson to put the Tigers up 2-0.
“That kind of got the momentum going,” George said. “It kind of calmed their nerves a little bit to score early and we just kind of went from there.”
East Jefferson quickly got back in it with a goal, cutting the lead in half.
But Benton got a big shot of momentum when Smith was successful on a penalty kick just before the half.
Ryan scored his second goal early in the second half to make it 4-1. It came after the Warriors’ goalkeeper made a save on a Smith kick. The ball hit off the bar and bounced out.
“Devin was right there and finished it,” George said.
Benton got strong performances from goalkeeper Steven Montgomery, who had 10 saves, and its group of defenders.
“Steven had an amazing night in the net,” George said. “He played extremely well.”
The Tigers’ defensive success has started with Ben Poole all season, George said.
“In my eyes he’s one of the most unselfish leaders ever,” he said. “He’ll never give himself credit. He’ll never speak highly of himself, but that just adds to his character. He’s unselfish. He’s a team guy and the work he does back there is phenomenal. In my opinion he’s probably one of the best defenders in the state.
“And then you throw in Cade Lollar, Dayne Reed and Reed Petro. The things they do together, those four, they pride themselves on playing solid defense and it shows. We’ve allowed very few goals this year, knock on wood.”
In three playoff matches, Benton has allowed two goals.
Benton athletics has had a remarkable run of recent postseason success. Since 2018, the school has won state championships in golf, baseball and girls basketball.
Friday night, the 2020-21 boys soccer team will have an opportunity to add to that legacy.
— Featured photo by Jeff Thomas