DANVILLE — In its first year since moving from the Sac-Joaquin Section to the North Coast Section, Vintage High School has found a budding playoff nemesis in San Ramon Valley High School.
After falling in the playoffs to the Wolves in both football and girls basketball, the Crushers’ boys soccer team avenged their schoolmates’ losses with an emphatic 5-1 NCS Division 1 quarterfinal playoff win over the Wolves on Saturday night that booked them a spot in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“We did this one for Vintage High School,” Crushers co-head coach Alex Feliciano said. “We knew they kind of had our number in other sports this year, so we had the backing of everyone.
“From the basketball coaches to the football players, everyone has been telling us, ‘Go get those guys.’ We owed them something and we kind of had a little score to settle.”
Vintage (20-1-2) won its 11th game in a row and is now unbeaten in its last 20 games. Despite their pristine record, Feliciano said the Crushers felt “a bit disrespected” by the NCS seeding committee’s decision to give them the No. 5 seed.
That perceived disrespect gave Vintage a chip on its shoulder, which showed in the second half as the Crushers blitzed the Wolves (14-6-5) with four goals to turn a 1-1 halftime tie into a full-on rout.
“I feel like it just came down to who wanted it more,” senior striker Oscar Loyola said of his team’s stellar second half. “Coach just pumped us up. We knew what we had to do, and we went out there and executed.”
Vintage came out fired up and scored in just the third minute of play. The speedy Gerardo Perez streaked down the left side and fired a gorgeous cross to Cole Geschwender, who corralled it in stride and fired a left-footed line drive past the outstretched goalkeeper.
But the Wolves had no interest in rolling over. They woke up and dominated time of possession the rest of the half.
The hosts managed to tie the game 21 minutes in, when Cian Molloy rifled a rebounded San Ramon free kick from 15 feet outside the box into the back of the net.
After four straight shutouts, Molloy’s goal was the first that Crushers keeper Carlos Ayala had allowed since Jan. 24. With eight saves, he made sure it was the only goal he would allow on the night.
“It’s that leadership in the back. (Ayala) makes everyone feel more relaxed,” said Feliciano. “He’s not only a senior with experience. When his number gets called, he wants to step up and make those big saves for us.”
Although Vintage was outshot 21-12 on the night and possessed the ball only about half as much as the Wolves, the Crushers regained the lead early in the second half and ran away with it with three late goals.
“All year long we’ve told the boys, ‘You have to be clinical in front of the goal. You have to take those chances like they’re your last and not take them for granted.’ It’s a game of chances and if you can capitalize on your chances, you’re going to put yourself in a good place to win,” Feliciano said.
Jorge Galvan kicked off the second-half scoring, capitalizing on the first chance he got when he knocked in a ricocheted free kick with a right-footed laser from the edge of the box in the 50th minute.
The visiting coaches, players and crowd rejoiced after Loyola seemingly put the game out of reach with his first goal of the night. After outmuscling the ball from a San Ramon defender deep in Wolves territory, he drove a right-footed shot into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead with 15:27 left.
Juan Carlos Zepeda gave his squad a highlight-reel insurance goal late. He stole an errant pass on the left wing, juked out the oncoming San Ramon goalie and a helpless defender with some fancy footwork, and belted in a right-footed goal on an open net with just 2:22 left to play.
With only seconds remaining, the Wolves scrambled to get any type of chance. But Loyola drove the knife deeper as he broke away from the pack and scored a right-footed “cherry on top” that ended stoppage time abruptly and set off fireworks on the Vintage sideline.
With the walk-off goal, Loyola bested his 2018 mark of 21 goals.
“It’s amazing to beat my record in a playoff game – 22 goals,” Loyola beamed. “Wow. I just realized it right now.”
With the victory, the Crushers will face their biggest challenge yet, a 19-2-2 De La Salle squad that’s seeded No. 1 and ranked No. 70 in the nation by MaxPreps. The teams will square off at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Spartans’ Owen Owens Field, where they dispatched Napa High 5-1 on Saturday night.
“De La Salle obviously has a strong reputation,” Feliciano said. “That program and that name holds a lot of weight. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. We knew we were going to have to go through them at some point. So, we’re ready and eager for it and we know it’s going to be a tough fight.”
As a relatively new and unknown program in the NCS, the Crushers are ready to defy the odds and show the seeding committee what Vintage soccer is all about.
“I know it’s going to be a great game. It’ll just come down to who wants it more,” Loyola said. “We’re going to come into their house and just play our hearts out.”