BATON ROUGE -- The difference was night and day, Live Oak coach Zach Miller said.
He noticed it as the Eagles warmed up for their first-round playoff clash Friday against Belaire, a team that pummeled them 3-1 on Jan. 25. He kept seeing it throughout a marathon of a game that lasted a whopping 2 hours, 35 minutes on a chilly, mid-50 degree night.
With the season on the line, Miller saw a different team than the one that was humbled on this same field nine days ago.
But in the end, one thing stayed the same — the final result.
After playing through regulation and two overtime periods without a goal, the Bengals outscored Live Oak 4-2 in a shootout to win an emotional first-round playoff match between Division II, District 4 rivals Friday at Belaire.
“Night and day from last game,” Miller said. “I told them if we defend the way we did against Woodlawn, minus a few plays, we’ll shut them out, and we did. Not just for 80 minutes, but for 110 minutes. I told (Belaire coach Tyler Love) if we would’ve kept playing for 3 hours I don’t know if anybody would’ve scored.”
It sure seemed like it.
The Eagles (9-13-6), who were soaring after a strong finish to the regular season, kicked it up a notch during a physical contest against their district foe, holding the Bengals without a goal in regulation for just the second time this season.
The score was 0-0 through 80 minutes, and that held up after a 20-minute overtime session and a 10-minute golden goal period, which is won by whichever team scores first.
Penalty kicks followed the golden goal period, and that’s where the season ended for the Eagles (9-13-6) when they missed on two of their four attempts. Brayden Betz and Colling Schultz each bagged their penalty kicks, but Landon Mears and Cole Schultz were both denied by substitute keeper Joel Hernandez, who made saves on Live Oak’s first and fourth attempts.
First-year LOHS keeper Nate Bermes didn’t fare as well.
In the first penalty-kick situation of his life, Bermes gave up four goals on four shots. Santos Cabanas hit the top left corner for the first goal before Rony Castellanos and Fernando Venzor froze Bermes in place with goals.
Dennis Paz was the last to score, shooting the ball over Bermes as his Belaire teammates rushed the field.
While the Bengals were in a wild celebration, the physically and emotionally-drained Eagles consoled one another, embracing and offering words of encouragement as they dealt with the realization that the season was over.
Bermes took it harder than most, despite keeping Live Oak in the game all night with six game-changing saves.
“I needed to do it for my team, but I couldn’t,” Bermes said, tears filling his eyes. “I let them down. When it comes down to it, I didn’t save a single one.”
The loss wraps up what’s been an up-and-down year for the Eagles, who won six of their first eight games, lost eight of their next 12 and went 3-3-2 in the final stretch of the regular season.
As the playoffs started to come into doubt, Live Oak came through when it mattered most, closing the regular season with a 3-3 tie against No. 5 Woodlawn and a 6-4 win over Riverside Academy to secure a playoff spot for the second straight year.
But for the second straight year, the Eagles’ season came to a bitter end in the first round.
“We left heart on the field,” Mears said. “We’re a close-knit group of boys, especially the senior and juniors. We started the first middle school team and went undefeated. We’ve been together for a long time, so it hurts right now.”
BELAIRE 4, LIVE OAK 2
Goals – Live Oak: Brayden Betz 1, Collin Schultz 1; Belaire: Santos Cabanas 1, Rony Castellanos 1, Fernando Venzor 1, Dennis Paz 1. Goalkeepers – Live Oak: Nate Bermes (6 saves); Belaire: Tywonne Harris (5 saves); Joel Hernandez (2 saves). Shots/shots on goal – Live Oak: 15/11, Belaire: 19/10. Records: Live Oak 9-13-6; Belaire 10-6-4.