Locked up and delivered.
Santa Rosa wrapped up a wild North Bay League boys soccer chase on the road Wednesday night, beating rival Montgomery 1-0 to secure the league pennant.
In a closely fought contest that came amid simmering controversy, it’s something close to kismet that the game was decided on a questionable call and the ensuing free kick.
With 26 minutes to play in the second half and the score knotted at zero, Montgomery defender Ben Cawood was sent off with a red card after using two hands to pull Santa Rosa’s Brian Sanchez to the ground near the center circle.
At midfield, the clear foul did not stop a goal-scoring opportunity — the typical reason for showing a red card. But in a game with an emotional back story, it could have been the referee’s way of sending the message that this match would not get out of hand, but it wasn’t received well in the Vikings supporter section.
Montgomery coach Jon Schwan didn’t see it as an automatic red, but accepted the call.
“He was adamant about what he saw,” he said of the center referee.
With Montgomery a man down and without sophomore Cawood’s defensive prowess in the box, Santa Rosa senior and co-captain Edwin Martinez launched a moonshot toward Montgomery’s goal and into the mix of orange and white jerseys. No one touched it.
“I wasn’t looking to score,” Martinez said. “I just kicked it and it went in.”
Playing a man up for the rest of the game, Santa Rosa was able to take control of the tempo in a game that until that point had been an even match on both possession and chances on goal.
When the two squads met on Jan. 15 at Santa Rosa, the Panthers came away with a 2-0 win. It was the last time until Wednesday that Vikings goalkeeper Jordan Page and his defenders had been scored upon.
Despite a stellar start on the season, the Panthers didn’t make life easy for themselves midseason, with a 2-1 road loss to a strong Rancho Cotate squad Jan. 27, followed by a 1-1 tie at Windsor and a 2-1 nonleague loss to Marin Academy — three shaky performances in a row.
On Wednesday, they gave the shake to the shaky.
And it was all eyes forward after the initial celebrations.
“It means we get to go to the playoffs,” Santa Rosa coach Antonio Garcia said when asked what the win over a rival means.
Garcia acknowledged the Santa Rosa versus Montgomery soccer rivalry. The Vikings have ended the Panthers’ postseason two years in a row, both coming on Montgomery’s field.
“It was big for us,” Garcia said. “We have ended our season, the last two seasons here. It means a lot here, it means a lot against a team that in years past we have struggled with.”
Gone unspoken most of the night was the controversy over sophomore transfer Bryan Rosales. The phenomenal midfielder left Santa Rosa in mid-October to enroll in an academic program specific to Montgomery and just last week was ruled eligible to play for the Vikings. The original decision ruled him ineligible for a year because of undue influence from people connected with Montgomery.