Just after going to print last week, on Monday, September 14, the Panthers hosted Cloverdale in a match that, despite being a non-league game (the last one of the season), had significance for three reasons. Firstly, all matches count towards the overall season record that plays a major part in the seedings for the postseason. Secondly, this game is the annual confrontation for the unofficial “Highway 128 Trophy” that has been played for fifteen years between these two local rivals. And finally, Cloverdale are a much improved team this season and would provide the biggest test for an AV team that has not been tested enough so far in the campaign.
The game kicked off with about 50 home fans in attendance and their exuberance was soon dampened when in just the 4th minute the Eagles made a quick counter-attack down the middle of the pitch that caught the Panther defense off-guard. Very suddenly a Cloverdale striker had broken through beyond the slack-marking of the AV back-line and from 15 yards out he calmly placed the ball past the exposed Mason McLaine in the Panther goal. 0-1 to Cloverdale.
It was quite a shock but AV responded with a period of play that showed their heads were “in the game,” meaning that the necessary mental effort, that has sometimes been missing at times this year, was clearly evident. This quality, coupled with some fine passing and decision-making, saw the home side assert themselves on the game and in the 16th minute they scored a deserved equalizer when, in a similar goal to the Eagles effort earlier, Gerardo Torales sent a fine ball through a Cloverdale defense that was playing way too far up the field to the on-running David Eligio. The speedy junior outpaced the defenders in pursuit before showing fine composure to put the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the box beyond the advancing ’keeper. 1-1.
The skillful and well-organized Cloverdale team fought back and the game ebbed and flowed with AV creating the better chances but failing to take the lead despite hitting the post on two occasions before half-time. There was high praise from the coaching staff for AV at the break and they came out in the second half to take an immediate lead.
Fernando Ferreyra, having discussed a tactic to beat the Cloverdale high defensive line with the coaches, put the plan into action and sent Chirro Tovar through on goal with a fine chip over that defensive line. Tovar’s excellent pace saw him race through, calmly go round the ’keeper, and put the ball away into the goal. 2-1 to AV.
Again Cloverdale responded well and the game saw some fine football from both teams. However, with co-Captain Abraham Sanchez in imperious form at the heart of the Panther defense and Mason Mclaine in goal safely taking care of any threat, plus the rest of the team committing to every challenge and working hard all over the pitch, it was the Panthers who scored next when, with fifteen minutes to go, Fernando Ferreyra scored from seven yards out when he was first to react to a bouncing ball in the Cloverdale box following an AV free-kick taken by Torales. 3-1 AV.
The game became a little testy in the last several minutes and a number of yellow cards were given out by the referee. Not that the game became “dirty,” just very high-spirited, which can lead to some mistimed tackles and illegal challenges. AV added a fourth goal in the dying seconds when Tovar blasted home with a first-time left foot shot into the roof of the net from the edge of the box after receiving the ball from a miss-kick by one of the Eagle defenders. It had ended 4-1 to the Panthers and they had pleasingly passed this difficult test provided by a very solid Cloverdale team.
Two days later, the team traveled south to the outskirts of Santa Rosa for a league match against Rincon Valley. The rain did not let up for the whole afternoon and into the evening and such conditions certainly did not help with the Panthers possession style of football. Nevertheless, they were still in control throughout the game and finished 7-1 winners with goals from Chirro Tovar (3), David Eligio (2), Fernando Ferreyra, and co-Captain and central defender Abraham Sanchez getting his first goal of the campaign.
A similar scenario, but without the rain, was expected to play out a few days later when the team traveled all the way to Petaluma, nearly two hours away, to play Tech High School, a team that struggles to compete every season although the effort and attitude of their players cannot be questioned. It was a long journey, it was hot, the pitch was in very poor condition, and the opposition was not going to be strong — factors in what was to follow. However, AV chose this occasion to produce their poorest performance of the season so far. It was disjointed, listless, and very disappointing indeed, and despite winning 4-0 (goals from Tovar 2 and Eligio 2), the team’s desire and effort both fell way short of the levels needed if success is to be obtained in the next three matches — each of them games against teams who will challenge AV for the title and far better than Tech.
The next match is today’s (Wednesday, September 23) visit to Santa Rosa, for the first of a number of season-defining matches. This one against five-time defending regular-season champions, Roseland Prep. These games have always been closely fought encounters and are frequently examples of the best in high school football. The teams will meet again later in the season for AV’s Homecoming Game on October 16. Another game of similar status, although against the slightly less daunting St. Vincent Mustangs, will take place at home this Friday, September 25 at 4.30pm. As I’ve said many times, your support at the matches is much appreciated and vociferous home crowd support is probably worth a goal a game! Hope to see you there — Come on you Panthers!
Current record (Wins/Losses/Draws): League: 4. 0. 0. Overall: 7. 0. 1