ROGERS — Eric Flores laid out to try and deflect the soccer ball, but he could see quickly that it was out of his reach.
As the black and white ball sped toward the Fort Smith Northside goal, Flores was helpless to stop it despite his best efforts. In the span of a few white-knuckle seconds, the Grizzlies’ season hung in the balance as the ball raced toward the goal.
The angle of the shot caused the ball to travel a little too far to the left, where it solidly struck the left post. The force of the kick caused the ball to ricochet off toward the other side of the goal, hugging the white line like a tight-rope walker. It struck the right post and kicked back, where a Northside player kicked it out of bounds, preventing a goal that would have given Springdale High a 2-0 lead.
Instead, Northside scored a few minutes later to tie the match at 1-1, then got the match-winner shortly after in a 2-1 triumph in the Class 7A state soccer semifinal match.
For Flores, the senior goal keeper for the Northside soccer team, it was just more proof that the Grizzlies’ season was not ready to end.
“When that happened, I knew it was God’s plan,” Flores said of the shot-on-goal. “I knew at that moment we were going to be winners. You just have to have faith and never quit.”
As the Grizzlies (15-5-1) celebrated a huge win that sent them to Friday’s Class 7A state championship match, Flores reflected back on a promise he made to his mother last fall.
Flores had accompanied his mother to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville for a graduation ceremony. From Bud Walton Arena where the graduation ceremony was held, Flores could look out and see the stadium where the Arkansas women’s soccer team plays its home matches, and where the state high school soccer championships are held each spring.
“I hugged my mother and said ‘mom, I’m going to be there,’” Flores said. “I promised her and I’m going to grant her wish. Hopefully, we finish and see this through.”
Northside will have a chance to make its senior keeper a prophet if it can get past a suddenly red-hot Rogers High team that struggled in the regular season but has dominated in the postseason with three straight wins to set to Friday’s noon championship match.
Flores was not a starter last season for the Grizzlies, Northside coach Mauricio Maciel said. He wasn’t even a varsity player. The Grizzlies were 19-3, but were upset in the second round of the state tournament by Rogers Heritage. Rogers High went on to claim the school’s first state boys soccer title and are the first team in school history to make back-to-back finals appearances.
Maciel said Flores’ play this season has been stellar and is a key reason the Grizzlies are playing for a state championship on Friday at noon.
“He’s just been so big for us this season,” Maciel said. “He wasn’t a varsity player last year, but he’s been huge this season. Eric is just a great kid.”
Time and again in the semifinals match against Springdale, Flores turned away shots including a near point-blank kick that he somehow cradled into his midsection. Late in the match, Spring-dale had multiple shots on the Northside goal including a pair of headers and a shot from just outside the goalie box that Northside turned away to preserve the win.
Flores admitted he was nervous before the semifinal match started.
“I just prayed, you know,” he said. “The man upstairs made it happen.
“I’m just really proud of my team right now. This is an amazing feeling.”
And one that Flores saw way back in the fall when this keeper’s promise to his mom was just a dream.