Benefield: Heartbreak for Montgomery boys in soccer title game

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We’ve been here before. When the ball hit the back of the net three and a half minutes into the 15-minute golden goal overtime, the whistle sounded and there was jubilation.

But the cheering wasn’t coming from the Montgomery Vikings’ sideline. It was St. Ignatius that erupted and celebrated and chanted. The Vikings, stopped in their tracks wherever they were when that shot went in, slumped to the ground.

The scoreboard read St. Ignatius 3, Montgomery 2. The No. 4 seed Wildcats were crowned the first Division 1 NorCal regional champions. The Vikings, seeded No. 2, were runners-up.

“We brought out a lot but I guess we didn’t break out enough,” Vikings coach Jon Schwan said. “We had a couple critical mistakes and it cost us.”

The Vikings had the advantage on possession but St. Ignatius brought a big, fast squad from San Francisco to the Vikings’ field. The game was aggressive, chippy and fast. But both sides showed signs of being a step off after playing three playoff games in five days.

“I think the combination of you know, three games in five days, playing overtime a couple of nights ago, I think that caught up with us,” Schwan said. “There were definitely some nerves.”

When St. Ignatius took the lead twelve minutes into the game on a header off a cross deep in the right corner, frankly it was stunning. Montgomery’s back line doesn’t give up goals in the air like that.

“We didn’t come out sharp in the beginning,” senior Ben Cawood said. “They got a goal off of a header where we didn’t mark up on the back post.”

But the Vikings had been in this position before. In the semifinal against Burlingame on Thursday, they went down 1-0 in the first 90 seconds of the game. But Saturday night felt different, said senior Jay Schlesinger.

“I think we got nervous,” he said. “When we went down 1-0 it was exactly what happened last game and last game I remember us not worrying at all about going down 1-0; we were already attacking a bunch, we knew it was coming, we knew we were going to score. Today it just felt a little different.”

The stage was bigger. This was the first-ever NorCal regional soccer final. It was the trifecta of what the Vikings wanted. They had run up a 23-3-1 record en route to a North Bay League title and a North Coast Section Division 2 title. All that was left was the first regional title.

“I’m proud of what we have put together, what we have put out there,” Schwan said. “It’s hard to win three titles in one year and that’s what we were playing for. We won our league we won our section and we came a couple minutes short of winning our region.”

They had their chances.

Halfway through the first half, junior Calvin Perkins was fouled in the box and the Vikings were awarded a penalty kick. Senior Carson Wyatt missed wide left.

With 15 minutes to play in the first half, junior Alan Soto sent a free kick into the box. It bounced around in the air like a bingo ball in a scrum so intense the goal moved from the goal line. But the ball didn’t go in.

In the second half, in a surge when the Vikings seemed to be building a rhythm, senior Bryan Rosales passed it to Soto, who shot far post and the St. Ignatius goalkeeper made a terrific diving save to his right to keep the Wildcats in front.

With Schwan urging his players to take chances and telling his defenders to push forward, the Vikings finally broke through.

With nine minutes to play, a Vikings free kick was sent into the box and sophomore Zack Batchelder, the hero of Thursday’s semifinal overtime win, flicked it in with his head to tie the game.

But the heroics didn’t hold up.

With less than two minutes remaining, St. Ignatius’s Paul Rich sent a soaring ball into the box. Vikings goalkeeper Emmanuel Padilla couldn’t control it and a Wildcat tapped it in to put St. Ignatius up 2-1.

Still in stoppage time, the Vikings earned the tie when a lofting cross into the box was misplayed off the head of a St. Ignatius defender into his own net. Tie game.

“I think it was just two such evenly matched teams,” Wyatt said. “It was an amazing fought game by both teams.”

The back and forth was both thrilling and agonizing to watch.

“All the seniors, it meant so much to us,” Cawood said. “We weren’t going to give up no matter how much time was left.”

The Vikings had to feel confident heading into overtime. In an evenly matched game, they seemed to have the momentum. They had been in this same position just 48 hours before and they had the home crowd behind them.

But three minutes in, a St. Ignatius counterattack on the right side ended with a ball crossed in front of Padilla who came out to contest it. The cross made it through to the feet of a waiting Wildcat who knocked it home to end the game, end the season and, in the case of the Vikings’ vaunted senior class, end their prep careers.

“We had some close opportunities late in the game,” Cawood said. “Just not good marking and a lack of concentration and they were able to get one.”

“If we had another couple minutes I think we really could have come back,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate way to end the season.”

It’s a loss that will likely sting awhile. It was a game that was winnable.

“With all due respect to them yeah, I feel like it’s a game we should have won,” Schwan said. “And I don’t want to take anything away from St. Ignatius because they are a great team.”

“There were just moments where I think we were, I don’t want to say afraid to win, but maybe playing not to lose and not taking the chances we would normally take in another game,” Schwan said. “And I can understand that given the moment.

“We just came up a little short tonight,” he said.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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