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Ignore the North Bay League boys soccer title chase at your own expense — it’s a good one. And as of Friday night, it got even more interesting/confusing/messy/exciting after the two league front-runners, Santa Rosa and Rancho Cotate, suffered a tie and a loss, respectively.

Those results, combined with a significant personnel addition to the third-place Montgomery Vikings, and suddenly every game could be a deal maker or breaker for these squads.

“It’s a testament to our league. We play some good soccer up here,” Montgomery coach Jon Schwan said.

It was Schwan’s team that set the excitement in motion Friday night with a 1-0 win over Rancho Cotate, the same squad that had beaten the Vikings just three weeks ago. And it was the same Rancho squad that looked stellar in its defeat of league-leading Santa Rosa just last week.

So Rancho is now 8-2 in league play and Montgomery is 7-2-1. Santa Rosa is a smidge ahead of both at 7-1-1.

Got it?

No? Let’s rewind.

Rancho’s win over Santa Rosa Jan. 27 put those two squads in a virtual dead heat at the top of the league charts and split the series 1-1.

Then Friday night came and Rancho lost 1-0 to Montgomery, a team they had beaten on the road in January.

And technology and communication being what they are, Santa Rosa head coach Antonio Garcia knew that Rancho had lost when his Panthers were still battling it out with Windsor. A win would set the Panthers apart at the top of the pack.

“We knew with 20 minutes to go in our game that they lost. It was like, ‘Here we go,’ ” he said.

But they didn’t.

The Panthers, who suffered a non-league loss Monday to Marin Academy after going undefeated in their first 14 games, settled for a tie with Windsor who moved to 4-5-1 and sit in fifth place.

“Everyone goes through a week where it’s tough,” Garcia said before Monday’s loss. “For us, I think we had a tough week. I think we’ll bounce back. It happens.”

“In the long run, it benefits us going into the playoffs, so that is good,” Garcia said of the mid-season hiccup. “Either way, it’s a tight race. . . . but always, as a coach, you want to clinch.”

With the way things are going, no one is likely to clinch until the last minute of league play has expired.

It also shines a major spotlight on a squad like Montgomery — a team that has the talent to beat anybody and upset the apple cart for everybody.

“It may be a little late for us to make a run, but we are trying,” Schwan said.

And teams like Windsor and Casa Grande could really muddy the waters in the coming weeks if they were to score a tie or a win against the top three.

“We are big fans of Casa right now,” Schwan said, noting that the Gauchos play Rancho tonight.

Windsor head coach Andres Flores said his squad can play spoiler every time out; the tie with Santa Rosa just proved it.

“We know we can play with them but I don’t know if we 100 percent believe it yet,” he said. “These teams are so good. Now with something like that it’s, ‘Now, you see? You can play with those guys.’ That’s exciting.”

Add to the excitement and drama this: Montgomery on Tuesday got the OK from the State CIF Appeals Panel for sophomore phenom Bryan Rosales to suit up for the Vikings.

Rosales, who started the school year at Santa Rosa, transferred to Montgomery to take part in the STARS academic program. Rosales had been barred from playing for the Vikings this season after an initial ruling found his transfer was made for athletic reasons. Tuesdays’ ruling supported Rosales’s appeal that he made the move for academic purposes, meaning he can play tonight.

As if Montgomery needed any more weapons.

Rancho Cotate head coach Eamon Kelly said the Vikings were firing on all cylinders when they took down his Cougars 1-0 Friday night.

“We had 11 individuals, they had a team. They worked as a team, they played like a team,” he said. “I was impressed.”

That sets up what could be a super — and significant — matchup between Santa Rosa and Montgomery on the Vikings’ home turf next Wednesday.

But that doesn’t mean these other games should be overlooked. Hardly. Remember, in the course of two hours Friday night, the course of the road to an NBL pennant took a funky turn.

Prognosticators beware, there is no sure thing in the NBL anymore.

“Who knows?” Schwan said. “It’s going to be fun.”

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

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