They walked off the field hand-in-hand, heads high, together to the end.
The Corsicana fans were on their feet one last time, giving them a standing ovation ? as much for the game they had just played as the season they were leaving behind.
That's how it ended for Corsicana's girls soccer team, a tough, gritty, no-quit group that saw its season end at Lions Stadium in Ennis Friday night in a 3-0 loss.
That's where it ended, right there in the Class 4A sectional round of the state playoffs, and it ended against rival Waxahachie, a powerhouse team that once again found a way to beat the Tigers, who played well enough to win Friday, just not good enough to beat Hachie.
“It was definitely the best defensive game we played all year,'' said Corsicana Coach Stan Jones, who talked to his kids afterwards like a family member. “I'm really proud of them.''
It was the third time Waxahachie defeated Corsicana this season, and it was Waxahachie's Lady Indians who ended the Tigers season a year ago in the same sectional round of the playoffs in the same stadium.
Waxahachie is a program with great success, and Jones thought the Lady Indians team out-did themselves Friday.
“Waxahachie hit another stride,'' Jones said. “They will probably go on from here and to the regional finals.''
Or maybe to the state tournament. Waxahachie hasn't lost a game in its last 15 matches, and had outscored its previous two opponents 13-0 before having to push its way past Corsicana.
The game and the season came down to one stellar minute of play. Waxahachie opened the game with a flurry, but Corsicana's defense fought off the early barrage, and started making runs of its own.
For most of the first half the Tigers out-hustled and outplayed Waxahachie, and was coming off a couple of scoring threats when the Lady Indians finally broke the scoreless tie with a breakaway goal by Tierney Thomison, who flew into the open and scored with 7:55 left in the half.
Less than a minute later, Thomison sent a cross into traffic and Karleigh Hector took the rebound on the left side of the goal and struck for a 2-0 lead with 7:00 left in the half.
“We were really playing well (and had chances), but the one thing that I was scared of was when we opened it up that hey would (get a breakaway goal),'' Jones said. “They've got some burners.''
That's what happened, and shortly after Jenny Garcia's shot on goal was turned back by Waxahachie, the Lady Indians found the opening and took advantage of Thomison's speed.
That goal was like a kick in the stomach to Corsicana, which knew it would be tough to knock off Waxahachie.
The Tigers had trouble shaking off that first goal.
“They score on a breakaway and the second goal we were still trying to recover,'' Jones said. “We knew we couldn't give up much against Waxahachie.''
Waxahachie scored a third goal late in the game after a penalty set up a play, but Jones said he couldn't have been prouder of the way his kids responded and played in the second half.
“I told them at halftime to make sure they remember Corsicana,'' Jones said. “And we had kids step up in the second half and our defense played really well. They scored after a silly penalty.''
Jones said he knows his team drives Waxahachie nuts.
“Every time we play them their coach says he doesn't like to play us. He says he gets butterflies every time they play us,'' Jones said. “They don't want to play us because we play hard and we play physical. They will remember Corsicana.''
Jones' kids have a lot to remember about this season, a season that had some bumps on the road as they tried to find themselves during a tough district schedule before coming together and making a run to the third round of the playoffs, literally getting better and better in the stretch run, playing with passion and desire ? and as every member of the team talked about this week, “Playing with heart.”
It showed, even in Friday's loss.
“The will this team had just to get to where they got to in the playoffs this year is phenomenal,'' Jones said. “I am proud of each and everyone of them.''
The Tigers were shorthanded on Friday as starter Makenzie Taylor, a force in midfield, had to sit out the game and Elizabeth Castaneda, who led Corsicana in scoring this year and scored twice in the Tigers' 2-1 area round playoff win over Dallas Woodrow Wilson, was playing with a nagging ankle injury.
Castaneda played with courage and desire and created some opportunities, often battling her way past defenders. But the opening she was looking for all night simply never came.
Goalkeeper Cynthia Turrubiartes, who has been remarkable in the playoffs, had another big game and shut down Hachie with at a half dozen outstanding saves.
“Cindy played great,'' Jones said. “And (defender) Makayla Garcia really stepped up in the second half. All of our kids stepped up. The best way to put it is that our senior group played their butts off. They left it all on the field.''
Then they walked off, hand-in-hand to a standing ovation, together to the end …