While his Todd Beamer soccer teammates rushed to the other side of the turf to celebrate with one another, Titans senior midfielder Austin Stafford stayed behind.
Stafford gazed off to the east as if no one were around him, his face battered with drying celebratory tears and light sunburn.
Both were mere battle scars after 86 minutes in Beamer’s toughest challenge of the season: its first-ever appearance in the 4A state soccer championship game, one that gave the Titans the 2-1 win over the Pasco Bulldogs Saturday at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
The win was the first state title for Beamer in any sport since the school opened its doors in 2003.
“Just an incredible feeling,” Stafford said, still entranced. “We were set on winning state, and we achieved it together.”
Staring off into the distance, Stafford may have been replaying the moment his teammate Jacob Allen sank the game-winning penalty kick the Titans (19-1-1) were awarded in the 49th minute after striker Diego Sanchez was dangerously pulled down in the box by a Pasco defender.
Stafford wasn’t thinking about Beamer and its championship moment, though.
He said he was thinking back to March 13, the day before Beamer’s first game of the season against Tahoma. It was a day his manager would deliver words so profound, the senior couldn’t help but relive them two months later.
After the Titans’ training concluded that afternoon, Beamer manager Joel Lindberg delivered six words seniors like Stafford, Luke Gregg and Dylan Alley haven’t forgotten: “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.”
“I can’t believe they remember that,” an emotional Lindberg said. “I’m just so proud of them for buying in, coming together and playing the best soccer they could.”
Lindberg’s mantra was prophetic because he predicted the make up of this year’s team before ever seeing it play a game.
First, “no reserves.” Through 21 matches this season, Lindberg’s starting 11 lineup was never the same any two matches in a row.
Each match featured different names with regular starters frequently playing different positions.
If Lindberg hadn’t stuck to his words, he may never have discovered freshman striker Sanchez or freshman defender Jordan Carmel.
Despite a lack of experience with the other members of the Titans’ starting XI, both Carmel and Sanchez fit in both quickly and effectively. Both freshmen played valuable postseason minutes, and each provided playoff goals.
“We were a little nervous to slot Jordan into center after Tyrese [Collins] went down with the knee injury,” Stafford said. “But both of those guys stepped up and did an incredible job.”
Then there was “no retreats.”
Beamer didn’t experience this problem during the regular season. It wasn’t until its first playoff game against Bothell when the Titans had the chance to run from adversity. The Titans trailed against the Cougars before tying the match just before halftime.
A through ball from Stafford to Allen in the 70th minute resulted in Allen getting yanked down by a Bothell defender in the box, awarding Allen a penalty kick, which he sank to send the Titans onto the quarterfinals.
Beamer faced another opportunity to turn and retreat in the title game against the Bulldogs.
Pasco took a 1-0 lead in the third minute after David Uribe headed in a corner kick from Joel Valle.
Instead of retreating, the Titans grew more aggressive, turning to the final portion of the model: “No regrets.”
Beamer played with reckless abandon in the second half, pushing its attacking midfielders and center back defenders forward. It allowed for right back defender Mark Filimonov to loft a curling ball past Bulldog goalkeeper Anselmo Martinez for the game-tying goal.
Sanchez gave the team its next opportunity when he was able to split the Pasco center backs and break away from the pack before he was pulled down by his shoulders, awarding the Titans a penalty kick.
Allen took the penalty kick for Sanchez.
“I just wanted to remain confident,” Allen said. “I just took my chance, took responsibility for the moment.”
Sticking to “no regrets,” Allen said he flashed back to the penalty kick against Bothell and approached what would be the championship-winning goal the exact same way he approached the previous penalty kick.
“I went the same way, just down the middle,” Allen said. “With the state title on the line, I wasn’t about to change it up. If he saved it, great. If I make it, even better. And I did.”
Before this year, Beamer boys soccer has never seen the state title round. The Titans didn’t even make the playoffs in 2016. Their last appearance in the state semifinal round was 2008. Stafford and his fellow Titans seniors were in third grade then.
Now, Stafford stood alone for just a moment and gazed out beyond Sparks Stadium as a senior and a state champion.
He spoke about that final training session and recited his coach’s words like they were uttered moments earlier.
Stafford wanted to experience a brief moment in private because he knew that when he came out of it, his teammates, as they have all season, would be right there — together again.
“We put everything on the field [no regrets],” Stafford said. “We went full force for over 1,680 minutes [no retreats], and we finished it all right here together more than two months later [no reserves].”