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It’s been 14 months since the Montgomery Vikings sent the North Bay League champion Rancho Cotate Cougars packing — ending their boys’ soccer season in the most painful way: penalty kicks in the playoffs.

Rancho Cotate junior Jesus Contreras remembers.

The Cougars’ 1-0 win on the road Friday against a talented, if young, Vikings squad helped salve the wounds of last season.

“We got the rematch we always wanted,” he said. “We waited a whole year to beat them and I’m glad we came up with the win.”

Friday’s North Bay League duel proved that it has staying power among local soccer rivalries. It had all the elements: parity in talent, tons at stake and long memories.

The relatively evenly played match between two squads that could potentially vie for league champ also hints at the parity across the stacked NBL. Santa Rosa, however, emerged from this hectic opening week of play — in which many teams played three games in five days — as the squad to beat.

But on Friday night, Rancho avenged both a midweek lost to Santa Rosa and last year’s loss to the Vikings.

It was Contreras’ goal about 13 minutes into the second half that was the difference.

It was a broken play that elicited calls for a foul from the Montgomery bench, but play was allowed to continue. Rancho’s dynamic attacker Adrian Fontanelli — who seemed to give the Vikings fits all night — passed to Martin Flores, who found an unmarked Contreras streaking down the left side. Contreras settled the ball and used his right foot to slot one into the lower right corner and past Vikings goalkeeper Jordan Page.

“I was just kind of there,” Contreras said. “Thanks to Martin for the assist.”

The pace of the game — the ball was popping around like grease splattering in a hot pan — hinted at a low-scoring contest, said Rancho’s head coach Eamon Kelly.

“It wasn’t going to be a game with a lot of goals,” he said.

“Generally in that situation, it’s the first team to score that takes it. It was always going to be like a one-nil game,” he said.

Yet for stretches there, Montgomery didn’t get the memo, and the Vikings looked intent on at least securing a tie.

Viking defender Ben Cawood sent a jaw-dropping 45-yard strike off a free kick into the crossbar late in the game and the Vikings had other chances to draw level, but couldn’t seem to connect passes in the 18-yard box.

But the Cougars were not without chances, either. Erick Montesantos missed a golden opportunity to put his squad up 2-0 late in the game when he failed to connect on a beautiful cross from Contreras that zipped right across the goal box.

And as with all good rivalries, the game was not without its chippy moments.

Two Cougars were issued yellow cards and the referee’s whistle blew loud and often.

And there was also an issue with a player who wasn’t even on the field.

Enrike “Kiki” Gomez, the Cougars’ dynamic field leader, didn’t play after being issued a red card in Rancho’s loss to Santa Rosa Wednesday night. But Gomez was seated on the Cougars’ sidelines, in violation of league rules, according to Montgomery’s head coach Jon Schwan.

It was unclear Friday night how Gomez’s presence on the bench would be handled by league officials.

Still, a visibly disappointed Schwan said his young team failed to rise to the occasion of playing a top-caliber opponent.

“We had a hard time settling in,” he said. “We had a hard time handling their emotion.”

The Vikings, and every other team in the NBL, will have plenty of chances to address emotion and tactics and conditioning next week. All squads are set to play three games in a week — a stretch that will most likely separate the contenders from the also-rans pretty quick.

“The proverbial rubber will hit the proverbial road,” Schwan said.

You can reach Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Benefield.”

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