Seconds away from penalty kicks, the dream season of the Santa Rosa boys soccer team came to an end. Goalkeeper Jairo Villalobos, stellar all night, raced out of the box to his left to track down a ball, but Monte Vista’s Tucker Busboom beat him to it and sent the winning goal into the net during stoppage time in the second overtime.
The Panthers came into Wednesday night’s North Coast Section Division 1 playoff semifinal with a 19-2-3 record and the No. 1 seed, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the visiting Mustangs of the East Bay League, the No. 5 seed, from stealing a 3-2 victory.
“We had a great season,” Santa Rosa coach Antonio Garcia said. “We won a lot of games, we had a good time, we played good soccer.”
But the Panthers must wait for their first section title in boys soccer since 1997.
If they had pulled out Wednesday’s game, it would be remembered as one of the great comebacks in school history. Santa Rosa played a listless first half and fell behind 2-0, then stormed back to tie the game in regulation.
“I was proud of how we came out in the second half,” senior defender Andrew Williams said. “I’m proud of my boys, I’m proud of the way we played the entire season. The intensity that we came out with in the second half shows who we are as a team, and I think that’s what we need to remember coming off of this. That’s what defines our season, not some goal at the end.”
The rally started just a minute and 30 seconds into the second half when a ball made it through traffic laterally and found Santa Rosa senior Edwin Gomez, who hammered a left-footed shot past the Monte Vista goalkeeper to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Just like that, a charge of energy coursed through the Panthers, and they played the rest of the game on even footing.
But Santa Rosa was unable to push through and draw even until the 82nd minute, when senior Edwin Martinez gathered control of the ball in the left wing, spun and sent a pass to teammate Anthony Lopez. The sophomore knocked in a header to tie the game and was mobbed by teammates on the rubber track bordering Ernie Nevers Field.
Each team had a chance to end the game in second-half injury time. First, Santa Rosa senior Seamus Young lofted a soft pass to sophomore Brian Sanchez, who was streaking along the left side; Sanchez pushed the ball just right of the goal. A minute later, Monte Vista sent a long free kick down the middle and it was headed inches over the goal.
Both squads looked tired in overtime, and Santa Rosa perhaps more so. It was Monte Vista that had most of the scoring chances in OT.
Still, after Villalobos booted a ball over the visiting stands and players waited for it to be retrieved, it seemed as though we were headed to penalty kicks. Then Busboom nailed the shot that sent the Mustangs to the D1 championship game. They’ll face No. 3 seed San Ramon Valley at Dublin High School on Saturday.
Villalobos was inconsolable after the game, but it was clear Santa Rosa wouldn’t have made it to overtime without his daring, leaping catches in traffic. He’s a risk-taker, and he may have taken one too many Wednesday. Yet no one on his team was blaming him.