Following the excellent victory over previously undefeated Roseland Prep in Friday afternoon’s Homecoming Game on October 16, it was back to the routine of practice on Monday afternoon in preparation for the final four regular season matches. Or was it?
Upon arrival at Tom Smith Field I was startled to discover that there was a team warming up for a game. It turned out to be Willits High School, a team we had been trying to restore to our annual schedule after a three-year absence. According to the Willits coach, a game had been arranged but we were unaware of it. I do not know how this can happen.
Nevertheless, we played a scrimmage with volunteer officials — their coach and Jorge Mejia, father of Panther sophomore J.D. Mejia.
It turned out to be worthwhile. AV played with intensity and skill, carrying on from where they left off Friday. Standout Chirro Tovar was at his best, scoring five goals plus one by Mejia. AV won 6-0 and should be very pleased.
Two days later it was back to league play when the lowly Upper Lake Cougars came to the Valley for the final regular season home match. This game has always been one-sided and with the visitors’ 2 wins, 2 draws, and 9 losses in the league season so far, it was expected to be a similar story. AV was ahead 4-0 by the 12th minute and 9-0 at the half-hour mark. The bench players went in and AV played possession football. The visitors continued to battle and scored a goal but the game finished 9-1.
But the next game was Friday against St Vincent’s in Petaluma, where the Panthers had yet to win in some dramatic and unusual circumstances on and off the pitch.
After a long bus ride the team arrived for “Senior Night” with a celebratory pre-game event in their honor, just two weeks after an earlier grand opening at Sonoma Academy. So the AV team and coaches had to listen a ten minute bagpipe display, never a pleasant thing in any circumstances!
But, the players were all-business. After sustained possession, Christian Guerrero threaded a ball through the Mustang defense and Chirro Tovar’s pace took him yet again this year past the last defenders and the ‘keeper. 1-0 to AV.
After what appeared to be an illegal play, the Panther defense was caught off guard and the Mustang striker nipped between two players and shot on goal. It was blocked by goalie Isaac Sanchez but ricocheted off the forward and into the Panther goal. A lucky goal. Tied 1-1. “The Curse of St Vincent” had struck again.
After dominating with solid chances, AV’s Tovar had a shot blocked but poked the rebound in from fifteen yards. A deserved 2-1 lead to AV at the half.
St. Vincent’s came out strong after the half and most of the play was in AV’s half against goalie Sanchez. In the 60th minute, Gerardo Torales found Tovar with a fine through-ball and again Tovar burst through, blasting the ball high into the net to give AV a 3-1 lead, an unprecedented two-goal cushion.
The Panthers struggled, giving away unnecessary free-kicks. After some scrambles in the Panther goalmouth the Mustangs got the ball in the net, but the ref spotted a clear foul against goalie Sanchez. After another free-kick the Mustangs headed a ball in but again it was ruled out on an offside call — an obvious ruling, but it clearly riled St. Vincent.
Had The Curse been lifted?
The Mustangs were pressing. After one more free-kick their height paid off when the ball was headed powerfully into the Panther net from ten yards out. 3-2 to AV, five minutes painfully slow minutes left.
However, the Panthers held on for the deserved win and, when news arrived that Calistoga had beaten Roseland Prep by the same score, the Panthers realized a share of the league title was still possible. The postgame meal on the drive home at the In-and-Out Burger in Rohnert Park tasted better than ever!
With two regular season games to go, AV is tied with Roseland Prep in second place, just behind Calistoga which the Panthers visit today, Wednesday, October 28th. If AV wins both matches (the second one is on Friday, October 30th at Point Arena) the Panthers would share the regular season league title, and get a very high play-off seed.
Those play-offs will begin on either Wednesday, November 4 or Saturday, November 7, depending on the seeding. Whatever the date, the first game will be at home. We hope to see you there – Come on you Panthers!
Current record (Won/Loss/Draw): League: 11 - 2 – 1. Overall: 15 - 2 – 2.