Following a 3-0 loss to crosstown rival Ryan on Jan. 24, the Denton Broncos knew they needed to make a change.
Lacking both offense and positive results, head coach Scott Heffley shuffled up his lineup and slid senior stopper Michael Husbands into the forward position.
“At that point we had only won one game,” Heffley said. “I didn’t feel like we played that poorly. I thought we were playing pretty well, but we didn’t have the offensive spark. We went and played Wichita Falls and we won that game. [Husbands] also assisted on both goals. It’s because he’s a big, strong player, and he draws a lot of attention so he’d lay it off and other players could have some easy goals.”
Husbands, who also played safety in football this past season, said he struggled with the position change at first but has grown to enjoy the offensive side of the game.
“That transition is definitely hard,” Husbands said. “Going from stopper, where I played three years, it’s been hard, but I’ve had coaching on how to shoot because for three years I didn’t really shoot. Now I kind of get more assists as a beacon to play into. I definitely like playing there.”
Following their win over Wichita Falls, the Broncos faced Fort Worth North Side and saw a glimpse of just how truly valuable Husbands could be as an attacker.
After North Side earned a corner kick in the final minutes of a scoreless game, Husbands headed out the oncoming crossing pass on the defensive end, sprinted down the field and eventually headed in the game-winning goal with less than a minute to play.
“All of a sudden, we started asking ourselves why we hadn’t done this sooner because he really was an offensive spark,” Heffley said. “Since then, he hasn’t been as productive scoring, but he’s a big part of our offense. He draws a lot of attention and it frees up some of our other players. Initially, I don’t think everybody was prepared with him at that spot. Now they put a lot of emphasis on him.”
The Broncos (8-8-5) defeated Lake Dallas on March 18 to clinch second in District 11-4A, earning them an opening-round playoff matchup against Saginaw at 6 p.m. today at Flower Mound High School. The Rough Riders finished as the third seed in District 12-4A.
Last year, Denton held Aledo, the top scoring team in District 12-4A, scoreless through 80 minutes before eventually falling 2-1 in overtime. That loss, however, proved crucial to the Broncos’ success this season as it gave them the confidence of knowing they were talented enough to hang with the good teams.
“It’s always exciting to make the playoffs, and I think since we got a taste of it, it was on our minds the whole year,” Husbands said. “Coach Heffley says, ‘Play your next game the best game.’ We’re always trying to progress and get better.”
Getting off to a slow start this season, Heffley was trying out different looks and combinations of players, but once he had them in their correct positions, the wins weren’t coming at the expected rate.
“We were still struggling,” Heffley said. “Despite playing pretty good soccer, we weren’t getting the results. That was concerning, and I think part of it was that I didn’t allow the players to develop consistently, and also I think we thought a little too highly of ourselves. Up to two years ago, we were competitive, but we didn’t really know how to win. Now this last two years, [we] have started getting over that hump of competing and doing what was necessary to win.”
Heffley said he likes how his team has played in the second half of its district schedule after falling flat to fifth-place Argyle 1-0 on Feb 18.
The Broncos have been surging ever since, going 4-0-2 in their final six district games with the two ties coming against Trophy Club Nelson and Birdville and two wins over Lake Dallas, a 4-2 victory over Guyer after relinquishing a 2-0 lead, and a 2-1 victory over Argyle.
The Broncos say they feel like they have their defensive foundation set while showing they can also put the ball in the net, but they don’t expect an easy game against Saginaw.
“It’s a No. 3 seed, but we were coming in fourth [last year] and we gave Aledo a run for their money,” Husbands said. “We’re definitely not taking them lightly. We’ve got a strong defense and that’s something that’s been characteristic here. We’ve started to not only have defense but our midfield is strong, and we’re starting to see some results. Before, we had strong parts, but now we’re all together. I don’t feel like there are any weak points. We’ve worked on our holes.”
After a 2-1 victory over Lake Dallas to finish the regular season, the Broncos didn’t exactly finish on a high note, but they know exactly what’s at stake tonight.
“I wasn’t looking past that game,” Heffley said. “That said, anytime we haven’t been at our best, we’ve responded really well. When we’ve fallen behind against quality opponents, the players responded and that’s what I expect against Saginaw.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.