OKLAHOMA CITY — How did Gabe Angle explain the aftermath of the header he landed from a cross from Miguel Madrigal with 2:16 left in Saturday’s Class 6A football game?
“I had to look,” he said.
Everyone knew it before him.
But he had to look.
Norman North had lined up all possible odds. It brought Mustang keeper Chance Johnson to nine saves in the first half alone. It carried the action for most of the game, but all for nothing until Madrigal and Angle teamed up for a game their coach spoke out against from the sidelines.
When Angle looked, he saw the ball in the net and shortly thereafter it was official.
The T-Wolves, 1-0, had nailed the program’s seventh state soccer championship and it’s the first since 2015.
North manager Khalil Benalioulhaj was the first to admit that his touchline advisor had been against Madrigal’s cross.
“I asked that the ball not be thrown into the penalty area,” he said. “Gabe was the only guy in the box. There were three [Mustang] Boys in there and just him.”
But he might have known it was going to be like this because it was also Benalioulhaj who explained Angle scored North’s only goal in a 6-1 loss to Mustang North a year ago. Also that season, on April 22 against Mustang for the District 6A-2 crown, it was Angle who scored North’s only goal in a 1-0 win.
It was his turn again.
Madrigal thought so much.
He didn’t even see the defenders.
“Gabe and I have this chemistry,” he said. “I know he’s always there and I know I can always find him.”
The cross came from about 32 meters on the right side forward. Angle got it about seven yards from goal, almost from the right post.
He saw the defenders.
“I saw everyone and I thought, you know, I’ll take my chances,” he said. “I’ve scored against them every time so far and there are two minutes left so why not just send it off.”
He knew he’d hit his head, but when he was pushed by a defender he lost his sense of direction.
So he had to search.
It was a sweet liberation for a program that had previously made it a habit to play and win state titles.
The North boys won it all in 2000, 2003 and after seven years of rejection four times in six seasons under coach Geo Claros in 2010, ’12, ’14 and ’15.
Benalioulhaj took over after the 2018 season. It’s taken some time to rebuild, but the T-Wolves are once again on the state’s soccer mountain.
For most of Saturday’s 80 minutes, the T-Wolves played like they belonged only to have nothing to show for themselves.
Before Angle’s header, North’s best shot was at Bostyn Carroll.
The first, with 22 minutes to go, he won the race to a ball played down the middle in front of three Mustang defenders who pressured him from behind while Johnson moved from his crease to challenge from the front. Carroll’s 10-yard attempt sailed a foot over the bar.
Less than 12 minutes later, Carroll broke away from a distance. A beautiful shot, it was all Johnson could do to put a fingertip on the ball, nudge it just high enough to hit the bar and jump out of play.
“It was frustrating,” Carroll said. “But we came through as a team, we played hard, I think we won it as a team. We played until the last whistle.”
The win put an exclamation mark on a season that began with three losses, including six recovering T-Wolves who have not yet played. From there, North won 13 of 16 and didn’t concede a goal for the last four weeks of the season. He again ended with shutouts over Moore, Mustang, Edmond Santa Fe, Norman High, Jenks and Mustang.
Even on Saturday, it wasn’t until two minutes after Angle’s goal that a North keeper recorded a save.
For the first 51 minutes, Carter Higgins didn’t have to stand in the way of a Bronco attempt. For another 27, neither did Will Sutherlin, who relieved Higgins in the sweltering heat on Saturday.
The Bronco didn’t attempt much of a shot either, rolling to Sutherlin, who easily picked him up.
It took the T-Wolves forever to get to the top, but they were almost never in danger of falling behind.
“You did a fantastic job. They have a lot to be proud of,” said Benalioulhaj. “As a coach, you can only hope for a group that works so hard, that listens to you so much, that agrees with what you’re trying to do. They are a special group.”
Also national champion.