The 2016 Boys’ Football season began last Friday, August 19th with an away game at Willits High School. Due to a number of understandable, and not so understandable, reasons the team traveled to the game with just 12 players out of the 22 signed on to this year’s squad. Enough said.
Two of the absentees were the first and second choice goalkeepers and the third choice is Christian Guera who, apart from at practice on rare occasions, has hardly played in goal for many years. He started the game and the one bench player available was sophomore Brian Mendoza, who had never played in a high school game before.
However, those who were available featured the vast majority of the predicted starters. Therefore, even though they would all have to play virtually the entire match in the heat without taking a break, our key players were out there to start the match.
Things did not start well when, after some sustained pressure by the hosts in the first five minutes, from a long throw-in there was some hesitation in the Panther defense and, under pressure from a Wolverine forward, the AV defender cleared the ball hurriedly, only for it to rebound off the forward and very fortuitously bounce into the Panther goal. 1-0 to Willits and things did not look good.
Nevertheless, the Panthers battled hard and gradually began to dominate possession and threaten an equalizer. Panther strikers Chirro Tovar (co-Captain) and David Eligio, playing their final season together having started since sophomores, were causing all sorts of problems in the Willits defense with their pace and skill and between them should have scored a couple of goals during a lengthy period of Panther dominance. Meanwhile, co-Captain Gerardo Torales suffered a slight strain in his thigh muscle that led to him playing through some pain and discomfort from his position in the middle of the field. The Panthers were rarely threatened in defense for the remainder of the half and, when they were, central defenders Carlos Hernandez (co-Captain) and Omar Mendoza efficiently coped with the dangers.
Finally, after being well on top for most of the half, and with just a minute to go in the half, freshman Brian Busio, starting in central midfield (a rarity for one so young), sent in an excellent cross to the near post that was met by Torales with a powerful downward header that crashed into Eligio in front of the Willits’ goal. The Panther striker, known as ‘Sniffer’ to the coaches because of his ability to take a chance of out nothing, lived up to his name and reacted very quickly to prod the ball into the net from a couple of yards out. Not pretty, but a smart striker’s goal, and it was 1-1 at the break - the very least that the Panthers’s efforts deserved after their shaky start.
With Torales far from 100% and the options virtually non-existent, it was going to be a tough second half but the spirit in the huddle before the resumption of play was very encouraging. Sure enough the Panthers carried on where they had left off and continued to dominate the game. Just four minutes into the second half, following an interchange of passes between Torales and Christian Guerrero, the ball ended at the feet of Busio on the edge of the penalty box. The youngster let fly with tremendous right-footed shot that crashed against the crossbar and bounced out to the ever-alert Eligio, who reacted quicker than any of the Wolverine defenders and headed the ball into the goal past the helpless goalkeeper. 2-1 to AV
More chances were created and missed and the Panthers should have had the game wrapped up convincingly by midway through the second half. However the Wolverines hung in and their ability to utilize the several bench players at their disposal slowly began to tell as AV understandably began to tire. Willits nearly drew level on a powerful shot from fifteen yards out only to be denied by a flying one-handed save by Guera in goal. This seemed to lift the Panthers for a final push to put the game beyond doubt. On a swift counter attack, Busio cleverly split the Wolverine defense with an excellent pass that saw Torales, fighting off his injury, run through and calmly chip the ball over the advancing ‘keeper. It was 3-1 and the Wolverines resistance was over.
The final whistle blew ten minutes later without any change in the scoreline and AV had secured a deserved victory despite all the earlier adversity. In fifteen years of coaching the team I have never had just 12 players for a game, and the sheer effort, work rate, and team spirit shown by those who played was among the best we have shown over that time. It bodes well for a successful season but it is very early days…
Next the team makes one of the longer away trips of the regular season when they play at Kelseyville on the first day of school (Wednesday, August 24th), before making an even longer journey to San Francisco on Saturday, August 27th for a third successive non-league match. This will be against Urban High School - the winners of last season’s bigger school postseason championship. (AV won the smaller schools title in case you forgot). This will be played at Kezar Stadium in the City with a 1pm kick-off and families and friends are encouraged to come along and support the team in this marquee match-up. The first home game will also be non-league and that will take place on Monday, August 29th against Middletown at 4.30pm on Tom Smith Field alongside the high school. As always your support at the matches is much appreciated. We play exciting football and, as I’ve often said, vociferous crowd support is probably worth a goal a game! Hope to see you there – Let’s go Panthers!