WILLIS — Porter and Willis have had their fare share of district contests in Class 5A over the years, but in 2021, a non-district meeting will have to do.
Willis jumped up to Class 6A, so the Spartans met their familiar foe in the Wildkat Showcase on Friday morning at Berton A. Yates Stadium. The hosts scored twice in the first half and held on for a 2-1 win.
“It’s a chess game, not a checkers game,” Willis coach David Opp said of preparing to compete in District 13-6A. “We obviously want to have some positive experiences in preseason. In 5A or 6A, you’ve got to beat the team in front of you.”
Porter (1-1) is playing with a shorthanded roster with numerous players, including The Courier’s Offensive MVP from 2020, Angel Duarte, out. On the bright side, coach Paul Kunkel is seeing what younger players can do on a varsity field.
“Right now, we’re playing a makeshift lineup,” Kunkel said. “We’re missing a lot of key players but should be getting them back in the next week or so. I’m very proud of some young men that have competed. I’ve got two freshmen today that played most of the game and another JV player that’s played 70 minutes the last two games.”
Early in Friday’s game, the main chances came via Porter through balls that either missed slightly or were collected by an aggressive Willis keeper in Edwin Zamurio.
The Spartans had the possession advantage for most of the game, particularly in the second half as Willis (2-1) played with a lead.
“Congratulations to Willis, Coach Opp does a great job and I liked their execution,” Kunkel said. “But we dominated possession, dominated shots, dominated penetration in the 18(-yard) box, and I think mentally, we just weren’t there.”
The game’s first goal came in the 17th minute when Christian Pavon’s throw went off a Porter defender’s head and arced high, seemingly falling into the net in slow motion.
Opportunities were traded for the rest of the half. With 12 seconds to go, Jonah Ortigoza gathered a ball about 30 yards from the goal and shot a rocket into the upper left corner to give the Wildkats a 2-0 lead.
“Those don’t happen very often,” Opp said of the late goal. “One thing I liked about that goal was the emotion they showed. A lot of times, you don’t get that kind of emotion, especially in the preseason. If they don’t get the experience of feeling stuff like that, it’s tough for them to know what they can attain.”
In the second half, Willis went into defensive mode and Porter dominated possession.
“I told them to win the second half,” Kunkel said. “The reason you have a non-district schedule to get ready for district — to execute, to not worry, to keep our heads. Win or lose, I just wanted to outplay them in the second half.”
Jovany Garcia had a chance at an open net in the 44th minute, but a crowd of Willis defenders forced the shot wide. Alexander Jaramillo had multiple second-half chances, including a volley on a long set piece that he didn’t get all of in the 62nd minute.
In the 72nd minute, Willis was called for a push in the penalty area, giving the Spartans a penalty kick. Garcia connected on the opportunity with a shot to the left.
The Spartans later hurried to set up a corner kick as time expired but the rushed attempt failed.
Both teams are back in action Saturday. Porter takes on New Waverly at 8 a.m. Willis faces rival Huntsville at 2 p.m.
Opp says limiting turnovers will be a key moving forward for his team, as it prepares to take the field against College Park, Conroe, Grand Oaks, Oak Ridge and The Woodlands in 13-6A.
“We have an opportunity to play some of the biggest names in 6A and we want to give them a game,” Opp said. “I’m okay losing to a better team, but I stay up at night when we give games away. No one expects anything from us when we’re the smallest 6A program in the state and those other schools may see us and think it’ll be any easy night. No matter the score at the end of the game, we want them to know they played Willis.”