It wasn’t your typical Evergreen Cougars game. Now that’s to be expected in the season opener against an opponent the likes of Air Academy. After all, both teams reached at least the 4A state quarterfinals in 2011. Shoot, Evergreen played for the championship.
But the Aug. 30 game at Evergreen High School showed Cougars head coach Peter Jeans that his team needs to play as one. It took a while, but Evergreen finally figured that out.
Ethan Jackson scored the second of his two goals in the 63rd minute and twin brother Matthew Jackson also scored in the second half as the Cougars, up a man, rallied to topple Air Academy 3-2.
“We had to play as a team. I thought we did. We closed it off once we got up 3-2. We started playing as a team more, with more unity,” said Ethan Jackson, who scored the game’s opening goal just seven seconds in.
Air Academy tied the game at one in the sixth minute on the first of two John Sims’ goals. Then, with his team down a man after Alex Granada, one of the Cadets’ two returning starters from 2011, received a questionable red card for what game officials ruled intentionally inciting a fight, Sims scored off a header in the 27th minute to give Air Academy a 2-1 lead.
“We huddled up after the red card. We said to each other to keep your composure and just play the game. No silly fouls and don’t talk back to the refs. Just play the game,” Matthew Jackson said.
It wasn’t until the second half, however, that the Cougars found that composure to focus on playing the way they do, which is to control the ball and dominate the midfield.
Matthew Jackson tied the game in the 60th minute after a free kick from 35 yards out found the right corner of the net. Three minutes later, Ethan Jackson gave Evergreen the lead for good.
“Soccer is such an emotional game. We harnessed our emotions better in the second half. We settled down,” Jeans said. “In the first half, we were flying around and we couldn’t settle. We were part of the aggression, but I thought in the second it was much better. We were much more disciplined. We played a smarter half. We didn’t play harder, just smarter.”
Evergreen keeper Matthew Hornbecker finished with four saves.
The fact EHS opened with someone such as Air Academy is no coincidence. Last year, the Cougars opened up with a 1-0 victory over Mullen, who, ironically, they would meet two and half months later for the 4A state championship. It is the kind of competition Jeans craves for his team.
“You want those kinds of games. I love this for opening night. The atmosphere was unbelievable. There were a ton of people here. The atmosphere was great,” Jeans said. “This gives you a test to show how good your team is and what you need to work on before you get into the conference. You don’t want to show up in conference for big games and not be tested. Even if you lose there’s no shame in losing to a team like that.”