KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the East High School boys' soccer team stepped on the field for the Missouri Class 3 championship on Saturday, it wasn't unfamiliar territory for the Bears.
Just under a year ago, the Bears were on the same field at the World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, Missouri, when they fell short to Webster Groves in penalty kicks.
The story was different this time around, as the Bears edged out the Ladue Horton Watkins Rams 2-0, scoring both goals in the second half of the game.
It was last year's loss that motivated the Bears all season, and that pushed the team to clinch its first-ever boys soccer title, according to East head coach Gerzo Guerrero.
"I'm feeling so proud for (the players), because we worked hard this last year," Guerrero said. "We got our first opportunity to come here last year, but didn't make it in the end. But this year, we were a little more confident, because we already know how the system works here."
The win didn't come without adversity for the Bears.
With just over 23 minutes left in the first half, the Bears lost their starting goalkeeper, Shukuru Hassani, to injury.
Senior goalkeeper Elias Pelico received the nod to relieve Hassani for the remainder of the game.
Pelico has been in this position before. Last year, just hours before the Bears competed in the semifinal, Pelico found out he'd be a last-minute fill-in, too.
Pelico talked about how he's learned to remain composed when called to perform in such tough situations.
"The first thought I had was, 'What happened to Shukuru? Is he OK?'" Pelico said. "I try to take my mind off of what I'm thinking and just focusing on the game."
The win had many of East's players speechless, including utility player Esube Byoke.
"I feel amazing," Byoke said with a smile. "I'm so proud of myself, my teammates, my coaches for this moment. We knew were going to win, because we worked hard for it since August."
Byoke had one final message for the community who supported the team before he celebrated with his teammates.
"KC is green," he said.