Following the poor showing in the narrow victory over Point Arena, the Panthers had played another disappointing game against Sonoma Academy in a 2-2 draw a few days later. It was time to get back on track in terms of playing some quality football and showing some clinical finishing. A good place to start would be against Rincon Valley Christian whom AV had defeated 4-0 earlier and who came to the Valley for the return match last Wednesday.
Unfortunately, not long before kick-off, the team learned that four starters would be missing, two through injury and two absent from school. As in the first game, RVC proved to be a physically strong team and very hard-working, if not as skillful as some others in the league. Nevertheless, AV had several chances in the first half to put the game away but, as at Sonoma Academy, these were squandered and it was still 0-0 at the half. By this time another starter was out injured: leading scorer and co-Captain Elio Gonzales, and the bench was now depleted. However, the substitutes played well, especially freshmen Gualberto Gastelum, Fabian Sanchez, and Moises Segura, and once again the Panthers were the better team in the half, although it must be said that the Christians had chances of their own to score. Neither side could make the breakthrough and the game finished 0-0. The Panthers had now failed to score in over two hours of football. Somewhat ironically, earlier in the season, at one point they had not conceded a goal in over 15 hours of play.
These consecutive draws against teams they had beaten handily earlier in the season had now resulted in the Panthers slipping into second place in the league, a point behind Calistoga and tied with Roseland Prep. The team was very disappointed but their unbeaten record was still intact, albeit hanging by an increasingly narrow thread, and up next was one of the top three teams in the league, and last year’s regular season Champions, Roseland Prep. This game was played down in Santa Rosa on Friday (14th) afternoon — as tough a place as any for AV to try to end their current run of poor form.
Top scorer Elio Gonzales was still injured and could not play, although as co-Captain he did travel with the team. The Panthers were mentally prepared for this big game, but Roseland came out very strong and had missed a couple of good chances before taking the lead in the 17th minute after AV had given the ball away far too easily in midfield. It was soon 0-2 to the Knights when another error by the Panthers gave possession away cheaply and a top quality finish gave Cristian Mendoza in the Panther goal no chance. AV battled back and had a couple of chances to reduce the deficit but one hit the crossbar and the Roseland ‘keeper made a fine save on the other occasion.
Having finished strongly in the first half the Panthers had started well in the second and were looking a good bet to turn things around when a Knights’ defender found himself thirty-five yards from goal and decided to let fly. His shot could have gone anywhere but found the top corner of the Panther net and AV were suddenly down 0-3. Panther heads dropped and a few minutes later it was 0-4 when a series of good, accurate passes around a stagnant Panther midfield and dormant defense resulted in a fine goal that sent the Roseland fans deliriously happy and guaranteeing it would be a very satisfying Homecoming for the Knights.
Despite having all three Panther co-captains injured on the bench by the full-time whistle, and three freshmen and five sophomores out on the field, AV maintained some pride with their performance over the final 20 minutes against a very good team indeed, the best AV has faced this season to-date, and one which should go far in the post season. However, with the unbeaten run over it was a very subdued and disappointed team that ate dinner in Santa Rosa following the game. Much discussion was had, and several explanations offered by coaches and players alike for the recent poor run of results. All had some validity. However, perhaps the simplest explanation is that the team was not as good as the 11-0-0 (won-loss-draw) record of the first half of the season would suggest, nor are they anywhere near as poor as the season’s third quarter 1-1-3 record seems to indicate. The overall regular season is 21 games long this year and Coach Sparks said before the season that a top-three finish was most likely. In his post-game comments, following this first defeat of the season, he maintained that prediction.
The team has now slipped to third place and faced league-leading Calistoga here in Boonville last night (Tues, Oct 18th) — a game played after we went to press. Tomales has already forfeited the game scheduled for this evening (19th) and on Friday 21st the team will travel down to Petaluma to face 4th placed St. Vincent’s. The final two regular season games take place next week, both away, against Calistoga once more, and then Upper Lake. The play-offs begin on Wednesday, November 2nd, when the players and coaches hope to see you either at Tom Smith Field alongside the high school or at the County Fairgrounds — it is to be decided.
Record (Won/Lost/Drawn): League 7-1-3; Overall 12-1-3 Goals: For 68; Against 12.