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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.

When Rosales entered the game 18 minutes in, the Santa Rosa fans booed while the Montgomery fans cheered.

But Rosales was largely neutralized Wednesday night by the sophomore Sanchez.

“Brian Sanchez played absolutely phenomenal. He was up for the challenge,” Garcia said.

Coupled with fellow sophomore Anthony Lopez, the two midfielders were the engine that made the Panthers go Wednesday night.

“To me, they are the best two sophomores in the area,” Garcia said.

Lopez said the Panthers simply got in a groove.

“After we got comfortable, it felt like we had possession and were the better team,” Lopez said.

But Montgomery certainly wasn’t without its chances.

Freshman Alan Soto had a couple of good looks at goal and senior Camden Dahms created a chance late in the first half that forced a strong save from Panthers goalkeeper Jairo Villalobos. Super-fast sophomore Jay Schlesinger also had chances but the Vikings could not capitalize.

It’s the end of the road in this rivalry, this season. Both teams are bound for the playoffs but Santa Rosa will compete in Division 1 and Montgomery will be in Division 2.

“Our season isn’t over. That’s what I told the boys,” Schwan said.

Santa Rosa closes out league play at home Friday against Casa Grande, which battled now-third place Rancho Cotate for a 1-0 overtime win last week. Montgomery will play last-place Ukiah in Ukiah.

But as of Wednesday, the wild NBL chase is decided.

“It’s over,” Garcia said.

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 iTune “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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