By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
CLINTON – Rafael Vidana, take a bow.
Pontotoc’s junior forward scored three goals – a hat trick – and recorded three assists Saturday to power the Warriors to a 6-2 victory against West Lauderdale in the MHSAA Class 4A state soccer championship match at Clinton High School football stadium.
“I’ve been training for this since the seventh grade,” Vidana said. “I had 27 goals last season and 26 coming into this game. I wanted to break my season record.
“We came out and played our game … and it’s to win.”
The state championship was the first for Pontotoc (19-3-1), which was making its first appearance in the title match. The Warriors lost in the state semifinals last year.
First-year Warriors head coach Michael Loden gave all the credit to his players.
“I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself,” Loden said, then smiled. “It wasn’t me. I’m just the bus driver for the team.”
Pontotoc played the first half without midfielder Fredy Gutierrez, who served a first-half suspension after receiving a red card in the state semifinals match against Florence.
Gutierrez’s impact was felt early in the second half when he scored on a pass from Vidana in the 43rd minute.
“I hated being on the bench,” Gutierrez said. “I felt like I had let my team down. I was ready to go in and score.”
Pontotoc’s defense – Piercen Burchfield, Luke Littlejohn, Deven Moore, Ty Morphis, Nathan Tidwell and keeper Daniel Harrell – was stifling on West Lauderdale offensive stars Lyle Daughtrey and Tyler Germany.
“Keeping slowed down was the difference in the game,” Loden said.
Added Burchfield, “Defense has always been a strong suit for Pontotoc. There’s no one place on the field where we are weak.”
Vidana’s first score and a goal by Brayden Timmons gave the Warriors a 2-0 lead. The aggressive Warriors took 11 shots on goal in the first half while holding the Knights to only two.
West Lauderdale cut the lead to 2-1 prior to halftime, but the Warriors answered on goals by Gutierrez, Vidana and Burchfield to build a 5-1 advantage.
Vidana later answered the Knights’ final goal to record his hat trick.
“This means a lot; this is history for Pontotoc,” Gutierrez said.