Author’s Note: The report below speaks of football when to some readers it means soccer, or perhaps futbol to others.
The season continued to sputter along last week when, following two games lost the previous week to absentee referees (Roseland Prep) and a forfeit (Clearlake), yet another game was postponed, this time due to the death of the father of Calistoga’s head coach. Games have already been re-scheduled and this meant that starting this Saturday (Oct 1st) the Panthers would embark on a stretch of seven games in 14 days that will almost certainly define their season.
This tough run started in Fort Bragg in an annual non-league match-up that would nevertheless still have a bearing on the post-season. The Timberwolves are yet again a strong team and a good result against them would no doubt be well-regarded by the seeding committee. With Manny Almeida and Alex Vargas, both ever-present starters to this point, not available, it was not going to be easy for the Panthers.
A slight drizzle was falling out on the coast and this was the signal for the Panthers to ‘get after’ the ‘Wolves right from the kick-off. In just the second minute, Co-Captain, Junior Mendoza, making his return to the line-up after a three-week lay-off following a hernia operation, sent in a perfectly placed free-kick from the center of the field into the Timberwolves’ box where it was deftly flicked into the goal by the head of Hector Cruz past the ‘keeper and into the corner of the net. 1-0 to AV. There was more to come.
The fast paced, full-pressure style of the rampant Panthers clearly upset the Fort Bragg team’s rhythm and in the eighth minute, following a poor defensive clearance by the ‘Wolves, the ball fell to freshman Gualberto Gastelum, making his debut as a starter, who sent in a powerful shot from 25 yards out. The T’Wolves ‘keeper could not hold on to the ball which fell to Omar Solano, who’s flick over the goalie hit the post but rebounded straight to Pancho Lievanos, reacting quicker than any defender, who promptly blasted the ball into the unguarded net. 2-0 to AV. A great start!
Fort Bragg were in disarray but gradually settled down and the remainder of the first half was an even game. In the 31st minute, a Timberwolf defender was deemed to have handled the ball intentionally in the penalty box and Elio Gonzales made no mistake from the ensuing penalty kick. 3-0 to AV. Then with just two minutes to go in the half, a bungled clearance in the heart of the AV defense left a Timberwolf striker in on goal and he calmly chipped the ball over the defenseless Christian Mendoza in goal to make it 3-1 at the break.
The second half saw a much less impressive offensive performance from AV as Fort Bragg pressed hard to get back into the game. However, the Panthers’ effort and concentration on their defensive responsibilities, led by Hector Cruz and Chuy Sanchez in particular, was exceptional and with Mendoza in goal pulling of a couple of fine saves to go with some faultless ball-handling, there was no further scoring from either team and the game finished 3-1 to AV — a well-earned victory against a very good team.
A rainy Monday saw the Knights of Roseland Prep visit the Valley for a battle of the top two teams from last season — a game postponed a week or so ago when the referees did not show up. The weather conditions were always going to be a factor but the level of skill and commitment by these two excellent teams meant that this was never too significant in what was a very hard fought game, watched by about 80 intrepid fans under an array of umbrellas.
Both teams played some fine football in the opening 20 minutes or so, but the resolute defenses kept clear-cut chances to a minimum. Then in the 25th minute a disputed free kick was given just outside the Panther box for what appeared to most onlookers to be a fine tackle by a Panther defender. From the ensuing kick Christian Mendoza in the AV goal could only parry the thunderous shot and, following a brief melée in the goalmouth, the ball was scrambled over the line by an alert Knight forward. 0-1 to Roseland and for the first time all season long, a total of 905 minutes – over 15 hours of play, the Panthers found themselves behind.
Immediately AV struck back and from a free-kick of their own, 25 yards out, Junior Mendoza hammered a shot goalwards only to see his effort crash against the post and bounce harmlessly away. Ten minutes later a fine move by AV saw Elio Gonzales through on goal but, under pressure from two recovering defenders, he placed his shot a little too close to the ‘keeper, who made a tremendous one-handed save to push the ball outside of the post. It remained 0-1 to the Knights at the break.
Apart from the score line, it had been a good first half for AV and, following a half-time talk by Coach Sparks in which he emphasized this and the need to remain calm and stick with the game plan, the Panthers came out strong in the second half. However, this is a very disciplined and well-coached Roseland team and they gave as good as they got in a battle of attrition all over the pitch. Both sides squandered a couple of half-chances but in the 61st minute Junior Mendoza sent in a free-kick from a wide left position just inside the Knights’ half from which Hector Cruz rose above the taller Roseland defenders to head powerfully past the ‘keeper from ten yards out. The home crowd roared their approval. It was 1-1.
With the rain continuing to fall, both teams played cautiously over the final 20 minutes although the frenetic pace continued and the tackling remained ferocious, but fair. No more goals were scored and it finished 1-1 — a satisfactory score line for both teams over the 80 minutes, it must be said. The Panthers’ 100% record was over but the players were not too disappointed. They realized that this was the best team they have faced so far and they will meet again in Santa Rosa on Friday October 14th.
Meanwhile, the players and coaching staff greatly appreciate your attendance on the sidelines and look forward to your continuing support... Go Panthers!
Record (Won/Lost/Drawn): League 6-0-1; Overall 11-0-1. Goals: For 63; Against 4.
P.S. I am indebted to AV High’s American Football coach, John Toohey for his explanation, in response to my comment in brackets at the top of this column, that the reason his sport is called ‘Football’ is because the ball is one foot long — Foot ball. Get it? He also observantly points out that this is America. However, I feel it only polite to point out to John, a fine coach and even better young man, that the actual length of the ball in his sport is officially between 11”-11¼”. This obviously changes everything. Instead of ‘Foot’ Ball, shouldn’t it be called ‘Not Quite a Foot’ Ball?