The Neosho Wildcats' historic season in boys soccer came to an end Saturday afternoon with a 6-2 loss to the Glendale Falcons in the Class 3 state quarterfinals at Bob Anderson Stadium.
Neosho's weakness defensively ran into Glendale's offensive strength with the Falcons building a 4-1 halftime lead.
Glendale scored two more goals early in the second half and Neosho put one in with just 28 seconds remaining in regulation.
"It's tough to end with a loss," Neosho head coach James Carter said, "but, you know, one team wins state and everybody else ends with a loss. The first half goals for them were all four set pieces, which we've worked on and it's been a weakness all year, to be honest, and a strength of theirs. That wasn't a good alignment for us, and that was difficult for us. They certainly outplayed us, but those set pieces and long goals.
"We worked on it and talked about it (Friday), but I was worried about it because it's really hard to do as a defender. I remember when I was playing, it's just a difficult situation to deal with, it's hard to handle, you can't be offside on a throw-in, so those guys can set up in the box and it was a great weapon for them today."
Glendale improved to 20-7 overall and reached the Final Four for the first time since 2014, while Neosho ended its season 13-11-1 with the first back-to-back district titles and first quarterfinal appearance in program history.
"It was an incredible year," Carter said. "This team did so much for Neosho soccer. I told them it's hard for me to put into words and I think I'm usually pretty good at putting things into words. It was incredible, the sectional win and back-to-back district champs. They're an amazing team and I think most often these things come one step at a time. We took a big step this year."
The Wildcats hope to build on this season's success next season, as they built on last season for this season.
"I don't want this to be a one-off type thing," Carter said. "Be more consistent with our postseason runs. That's something we're looking forward to do. A lot of young guys. That's the real message: Let's be more consistent about getting here more often."
Carter talked about seniors Angel Alvarado, Brayden Johnson, and Edly Lihpai, who will be the first graduates from the Neosho soccer program with two district titles.
"When you talk about that senior class," Carter said, "I just think of their leadership. Those are just three rock solid young men who in terms of their values and their leadership, we're going to miss that a lot. They're great players and that's important, but in terms of leaders I've had, they're three of the best."
The difference in experience definitely showed at Bob Anderson on Saturday.
Glendale senior Ryan Feeney scored two goals and had one assist in the match's first 15 minutes, as the Falcons scored their goals on those "set piece" corner kicks and throws. Feeney took passes from Max Elmer and Grant Compere on the goals, respectively, and Feeney set up Elmer on the third goal with his patented big throw.
Neosho scored its first goal off a Yahir Ruiz corner and Lihpai goal, but the Falcons closed out the half with a 30-yard free kick by Compere that just cleared the leaping save attempt by Neosho sophomore goalkeeper Kayden Wood.
That goal proved to deflate the Wildcats before the half, and Glendale closed out its scoring with goals by Elmer and Anthony Salerno.
Neosho's Etian Pupo finished up the scoring in the 80th minute.
Glendale's defense swarmed Neosho junior forward Yahir Ruiz and limited his opportunities, especially in the open field.
Glendale senior goalie Kendrick Scott made eight saves, as did Neosho's Wood.