Burley boys' soccer coach Wes Nyblade is a big bear of a man, who carries a big, blonde walking stick and enjoys huddling with his players in big, bear-like group hugs after successful outcomes to games.
The Burley players love it, and have always responded and listened to their coach, who founded the Bobcat soccer program over 20 years ago and still gets excited about kids playing the great game of soccer.
Nyblade's boys have been in some big games, none bigger than the 2006 State 4A tournament, when eventual third-place Burley (20-1-0, 19 straight wins, 14 shutouts) lost their only game of the season 3-2 in overtime to eventual champ Sandpoint in the semi-finals.
It was quite a four-year stretch from 2003-06 for Burley (64-13-6) including three state consolation trophies and the third-place hardware at state.
But Burley, winner of four consecutive Great Basin Conference West titles, coughed up that league honor last fall with a 3-2 overtime shootout loss to upstart Jerome in the tournament championship game.
Still, that setback didn't stop state consolation champion Burley (18-3-0) from winning four of its final five games last season by 1-0, 2-0, 1-0 and 2-1 scores, losing only to eventual State 4A runner-up Skyview of Nampa 2-1 in overtime at state.
It's a program with history and a big walking stick.
But when the 'Cats had a staggering start to the 2008 season, they seemed likely to finish fourth in a strong league. Check out the State 4A rankings as the post-season tournaments begin, with Jerome on top, Skyview in second, Minico third and Burley in fourth.
So the biggest game of Burley's season was Saturday in Hailey, against a resurgent Wood River boys' side coached by Matt Phillips. Wood River's "Senior Night" game was a Great Basin Conference West clash with a lot on the line.
And the scenario was this: A loss or a tie would have given Burley the fourth and final seed and a first-round date at unbeaten Jerome on Thursday, Oct. 9. Jerome has beaten Burley 3-1 and 4-0. A win or a tie would have given Wood River the second seed and a Thursday home date against Minico.
What happened was a Burley defensive gem, fueled by a little luck and finished by an absolutely gorgeous last-minute goal. Burley (8-6-1, 2-4-0) made good on two penalty kicks and beat Wood River (7-7-1, 2-4-0 league) by a score of 3-1.
Scoring all three Burley goals was leading scorer and senior captain Pablo Marin (11 goals season), his second hat trick of 2008. Wood River's junior captain Morgan Pike (7 goals) scored his team's only goal 90 seconds into the contest.
Marin's final goal was a stoppage-time highlight-reel header on a lovely 40-yard cross from Uriel Anguiano as the game time expired.
"It was a big win for us and I'm proud of my boys," said Nyblade. "We're changing the story with this team. The kids keep stepping up despite adversity. We played much better defense in the second half."
Coach Phillips was more subdued. He said, "Burley was clearly here to play and we weren't up to the task. A tie or win on our home field would have given us second place."
Burley out-shot Wood River 13-10 but the Wolverines dominated early and had the better of the chances in the first half.
After Pike scored the first goal, the captain shot wide 11 minutes later and had an excellent chance, from Austin Cruz, at the 29-minute mark. But Burley keeper Brent Lee (7 saves) made the big save.
What bothered coach Phillips the most was the awarding of two penalty kicks to Burley at the eight-minute and 33-minute mark, both kicks made with confidence by Marin.
Phillips said, "Burley was awarded a penalty kick on what I would call a questionable foul/flop. Nonetheless we played with the call and went on with the game. We were pretty evenly matched and it was very back and forth until Burley was awarded a second penalty called on a corner kick.
"(Goalkeeper) Colter Brehmer was trying to get to the ball and apparently in doing so pushed a Burley player. If you looked at it from another perspective, which protects goalkeepers, one might interpret it as obstruction. That's usually how it is called.
"Needless to say, Wood River couldn't put the wind back in its sails for the remainder of the half. And the second half was dominated by a strong Burley midfield."
Coach Nyblade made a halftime adjustment, man marking Wolverine sophomore midfielder Chris de la Cruz with junior fullback Alfonso Sanchez. Burley started winning the 50-50 balls and got great defense from Edgar Perez, Karch Hinckley, captain Josh Searle and Christian Leon.
Based on the common opponent tiebreaker, the outcome gave Wood River the fourth seed and a visit to Jerome Thursday, Oct. 9 at 4:30 p.m. Third-seeded Burley will travel to #2-seeded Minico (11-5-2, 2-4-0). Burley and Minico have divided 1-0 games this fall.
Wood River has dropped 7-4 and 3-1 games to Jerome, the last score coming last Thursday afternoon. In that game, Phillips said, "We challenged Jerome like they haven't been challenged before. They knew we had come to play."
On a cool and breezy day at Jerome, the Hailey boys dominated much of the first half with great passing and solid defense. Phillips said, "Jerome had a few good chances but couldn't capitalize, mostly due to our tenacious warrior-like mentality on defense."
A first-half Pike goal, from Bryan Donoso, made it 1-1 at halftime. Jerome out-shot Wood River by only a 13-10 margin. The referee disallowed a Wood River goal (de la Cruz corner kick to Pike) at 75 minutes. But league-leading scorer Fermín Martinez of Jerome scored twice in the final four minutes to put the game on ice.
So Wood River, winless in its last seven games with Jerome, will have to play to another level Thursday. The winners and losers of Thursday' games will play again Saturday, Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. at the home field of the highest seed.