Panthers Maul Wildcats

by Coach Steve Sparks, September 15, 2011

The report below speaks of football, not soccer. That’s what most, but certainly not all, fans of the sport call it.

Following two fine performances to start the season against Drew (SF) and Cloverdale, both 3-0 victories, it was time to start league play and the team traveled down to Geyserville on a very hot afternoon to play the Broncos, a team that has fallen on hard times in recent seasons, not helped by the fact that they have the smallest school in the league. However, they always give their all and could not be taken lightly by the undoubtedly more skilful Panther team.

Unfortunately for Panther fans, this is what clearly happened in the opening 40 minutes as the hard-working Broncos fought for every ball and the lackadaisical AV team appeared to play as if they thought all that was needed to win was to turn up. Although the Panthers dominated possession, the finishing was very poor, showing a lack of application and intensity, and on a couple of occasions Geyserville could have scored on their counter-attacks. It was 0-0 at half-time and a shocking result was a distinct possibility.

Following a blistering talking-to by Coach Sparks at the break, the Panther team came out with a better attitude in the second half and after just five minutes, Alex Vargas played the ball from the right side of the halfway line inside to Hector Cruz who then made a fine pass into the path of the speedy Pancho Lievanos who outpaced the defense and hammered the ball low into the far corner of the net beyond the outstretched hands of the Bronco ’keeper. 1-0 to AV.

It seemed as if the floodgates would open but to their great credit the Broncos held firm and continued to frustrate the Panthers, whose poor efforts in front of goal, when it seemed easier to score than to miss, were hard to explain. It was still only a one-goal game with eight minutes to go when a nice move on the right side involving Erik Martinez and Hector Cruz led to an excellent cross by Omar Solano that was met at the back post by Cruz who headed down past the despairing dive of the ‘keeper. 2-0 to AV. A third goal was added with two minutes to go when Manny Almeida played the ball into the heart of the Bronco defense where Jose Gaxiola stabbed the ball home from close range. It finished a very sloppy 3-0 to AV and I think I can safely say that the post game team dinner at El Hacienda in Cloverdale was far more enjoyable than the match itself. This happens at all levels of all sports, when the mental part of the game plays a huge part and upsets occur as the lesser talented team simply works harder and causes all kinds of problems for their more gifted yet over-confident opponents. This time the Panthers got away with it.

On Friday, it was a home match against Point Arena, a team coming off their first play-off appearance for many years at the end of last season, but they have lost many seniors to graduation and are not the team of 2010. Nevertheless, poor finishing by AV once again meant the game was close for the first 30 minutes or so, with only the 8th minute goal from the head of Hector Cruz, after a good cross by Elio Gonzales, separating the sides. Then, AV added three goals in a barnstorming ten-minute spell to end the half. Two of these came when assists by Jose Gaxiola were converted by Pancho Lievanos and Hector Cruz, another header, and then just on the half-time whistle, it was Pancho who turned provider for Elio to score when his powerful shot was too much for the Pirates’ ‘keeper to handle and it slipped over the line. 4-0 to AV at the half.

This comfortable lead finally allowed Coach Sparks to play all of his bench players in the second half and while they only added two more goals, from Omar Solano and an own goal following pressure on a defender by Carlos Espinosa, the team played some good football, defended very resiliently at times, and with the 6-0 victory were able to keep their fourth clean sheet in succession — a new school record my research shows.

The following afternoon, on Saturday, Sept 10th, Ukiah High came to Boonville for the first time in many, many years. Ukiah is literally ten times bigger (1600 students) than AV (160 students) and thus they play in a different division so, despite being relatively near neighbors, the teams have rarely played each other. However, with the many years of great success enjoyed by Panther football in the last decade, it was decided to resurrect the game and the teams met at Tom Smith Field in front of a disappointingly small crowd of perhaps 40 fans, although given the temperatures in the Valley over the last few days perhaps people wanted to cool off elsewhere.

The game started off well, with both sides showing good skills in maintaining possession although the Panthers were generally on top. There were few chances in the opening 25 minutes or so but in the 29th minute, Jose Gaxiola drove in low corner kick that was knocked down by a Wildcat defender with the use of his hand. It was a clear-cut penalty and Hector Cruz made no mistake from the spot. 1-0 to AV, which is where it remained until the half-time break.

The Panthers continued to play a very disciplined game in the second half — getting to the ball first, maintaining the shape of their formation, tackling hard, concentrating on defensive responsibilities, and working non-stop all over the field. These are some of the fundamentals of the game that were lacking in the game against Geyserville. They seemed in control overall, although Christian Mendoza in goal had to be at his best to stop a shot from the dangerous Ukiah striker as the Wildcats continued to be dangerous. With the Panther defensive back four of Alex Vargas, Chuy Sanchez, Manny Almeida, and Chavo Eligio, playing its best game to date, it was the best chance Ukiah was to get.

Halfway through the second half AV increased their lead when a free-kick by Chuy Sanchez was parried by the Ukiah ‘keeper and Elio Gonzales reacted quicker than anyone else to send in another shot from six yards out. This too was blocked by the goalie but from that rebound Elio hammered the ball into the roof of the net and it was 2-0 to A.V.

In a game of very good quality from both teams, Ukiah responded strongly and within two minutes had pulled a goal back when an intended cross towards the back post sailed over and beyond Mendosa and into the top corner of the net. It was a fluke of a goal and the first one conceded by AV this season. 2-1 to the Panthers.

In the remaining 15 minutes, AV continued to play with great determination as the Wildcats piled on the pressure without creating any clearcut chances and when the final whistle blew it brought to an end a deserved victory and excellent performance in terms of effort and intensity by the Panthers against a powerful Ukiah team from a very large school.

With the season now in full flow, the Panthers are faced with four matches in eight days. Today, Wednesday, September 14th, league play continues when AV travels to Rincon Valley, before returning for back-to-back-to-back home league matches starting against Mendocino in The Apple Cup at The County Fair for Friday evening’s Homecoming Game, Sept 16th at 5pm. Then on Monday Sept 19th they are at home to Rio Lindo at 4.30pm before the first clash of the season with big rivals Roseland Prep takes place on Wednesday, Sept 21st at 4.30pm, also at Tom Smith Field. Meanwhile, the players and coaching staff greatly appreciate your attendance on the sidelines and look forward to your continuing support. Go Panthers!

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