The Del Norte boys soccer team’s North Coast Section quarterfinal match against Gateway was so dramatic that had it been a move script is may have seemed a little over the top.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Castro said of the scene at Kazer Stadium in San Francisco following the win. “It was just awesome.”
After a scoreless tie in the school’s first ever appearance in the NCS Division I quarterfinals through 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of extra time, the No. 5 Warriors found themselves in a penalty kick shootout with No. 4 seeded and defending section champion Gateway.
Kick after kick found the back of the net until the score reached 4-4 after four attempts by each team. Del Norte’s senior keeper Ro-tah Shorty nearly made a couple saves in the early going, but couldn’t quite keep the Gators’ kicks out of the goal.
Still, players said the team had faith that their senior keeper would pull through in Gateway’s fifth and final penalty kick — taken by the Gators’ star player.
“The whole vibe just kind of changed on the team,” said senior captain Johan Ramirez. “I think we had the feeling that this was all up to Ro-tah, and under pressure Ro-tah shows out. He is really confident.”
The shot came in hard right down the middle and Shorty parried it out of danger to keep the score level at 4-4.
“After he missed everybody actually started running to Ro-tah, but we were like, ‘No, no, no — it’s not over yet,” said Del Norte junior midfielder Jared Castro.
The save set the stage for Daniel Bertelsen, a foreign exchange student from Denmark, to secure the school’s first ever win in the section tournament with the final penalty kick of the shootout.
“We were all so nervous, because we knew if he failed there then it would be sudden death, and we didn’t want to go there,” said Del Norte head coach David Sanyaolu.
Gateway’s goalkeeper managed to get a hand on Bertelsen’s shot, but the ball powered through into goal — kicking off a celebration for an elated Warrior team.
“Denmark scored his penalty and we were all on cloud nine,” said Sanyaolu, referring to Bertelsen by his nickname on the team. “It was euphoria galore. Everybody was happy, and I was just happy for my boys because it was a very difficult match in hot weather and against a very, very solid team. The fact that we came out with a victory in that game says a lot about our attitude and how much we have matured as a team.”
It was the first penalty shootout of the season for Del Norte. In soccer, regular season games finish in a tie if the two teams are level after 80 minutes of play. In the HDN playoffs the Warriors found themselves tied with Arcata after 80 minutes, but a goal in the second minute of extra time in the golden goal format ended the match before penalty kicks were needed.
Since the end of the HDN playoffs, the Warriors said they have spent some time focusing on a shootout in case the situation arose.
“We knew once we got into the playoffs that there was a chance for a penalty shootout,” Sanyaolu said. “Since them we have been practicing it, and we had already gotten our five penalty takers down, and they delivered for us. They took very good penalties.”
Ramirez made the first penalty kick of the shootout against Gateway, followed by Vova Sherman, Brandon Lopez, Jose Regalado and Bertelsen.
Although the Warriors eventually pulled out the win in a penalty shootout, the game was an exciting back-and-forth affair for all 100 minutes of play.
“Both teams had chances to score. It could have been 2-0 us, or 2-0 them at the end of regulation,” Sanyaolu said. “We played a very good team, but we are a good team ourselves. The balance of play swung from one end to the other throughout the first 80 minutes. I thought we may have had an edge in the first half — we hit the upright once, and we also thought we should have had a shot for a penalty.
“We had a little bit of an edge early, but it wasn’t by a lot. They are a good side and they played us just like we played them.”
Sanyaolu said the game remained fairly even through the second half, but play swung wildly in Gateway’s favor when extra time began.
“In extra time I thought they were all over us though. I thought we were fatigued — we aren’t really used to playing in hot weather,” he said.
The Gators’ advantage was even more pronounced in the second of two 10-minute periods in extra time.
“They were coming at us,” Castro said. “They had one shot that hit the post and they got a rebound and hit the crossbar. We were just trying to get our bodies in front of them, but they were coming. We were nervous and we were tired, but we just kept telling each other to keep going. In the second half of overtime we were just playing defense. They were coming at us and we were tired, so if we had pushed up on them I don’t know if we could have gotten back on them. I don’t know how they did it, but they were just going.”
Although the Warriors were losing steam late in their longest (and warmest) game so far this season, the players were able to dig deep to keep the score tied.
“The thing that kept us going, honestly, is the fact that this could be our last game,” Ramirez added. “We wanted to show out because we made history by having the best record, but we aren’t done. We want to keep going. Obviously our goal is to get to the finals and win a championship for David and Souza, for the community, and for us too. After all the work we have put in, we feel like we deserve it.”
Despite the heavy pressure on its goal, the Del Norte defense was able to keep Gateway out of the net, aided by an incredible performance by Shorty, who played a pivotal role in preserving the clean sheet through regulation in addition to his heroics in the shootout.
“My goodness — Ro-tah was just amazing,” Sanyaolu said. “He made a lot of spectacular saves that we thought were in. They had some shots that made me close my eyes, but I wish I’d watched, because Ro-tah saved it.”
Shorty has been the Warriors’ keeper for most of the season, but he was also a valuable player in the field for Del Norte in his first three seasons with the team and in several games this season down the stretch.
Looking for their first NCS Tournament win in school history, however, the Warriors felt they needed their stalwart senior between the pipes.
“I thought he was amazing, and I am happy that we made the call to put him back in goal,” Sanyaolu said. “We have other good keepers, but it is nice to go with experience. He would have been useful for us as an outfield player, but in a game of that magnitude you needed to be sure that your goal is as safe as possible.”
Although the competition on the field was fierce, Gateway and Del Norte gained a mutual respect for one another in the first meeting between the two schools in a long time, and possibly the first meeting ever.
“I have nothing but respect for Gateway,” Ramirez said. “They are good players, their coaches are amazing, and their sportsmanship was perfect. They just treated us like they’ve known us forever. We kind of had a bond after the game. They are good kids, and they are good players too.”
The Warrior players and coaches made a similar impression on Gateway throughout the game.
“Their athletic director commended our sportsmanship,” Sanyaolu said. “Whenever their men were down Johan (Ramirez), Buck (Jared Castro) and Gannon (Machado) would lift them up, and they carried one off of the field. The athletic director told us that they would like to show their appreciation by letting us use their facility to prepare for our game on Wednesday. We plan to take him up on that.”
With the win, Del Norte made school history in a couple different ways. Not only was it the school’s first appearance in the NCS Tournament quarterfinals after receiving the team’s first first-round bye — it was also the Warriors’ first NCS victory. The win also set a new school record for victories in a season at 12 as the team improved to 12-2-3 for the season.
Del Norte advances to the semifinals, where they are scheduled to be back at Kazer Stadium on Wednesday, kicking off against No. 1 International at 5 p.m.
Sanyaolu said the team plans to drive back down to the Bay Area today, where they will meet up with their newfound friends from Gateway.
“We will get to see their school and maybe establish some sort of friendship.,” Sanyaolu said. “Maybe we could do a scrimmage sometime. I know it is a long ways away, but it is not impossible for us to work something out where we play them maybe once a season or something. They are good people, they welcomed us, and it is well appreciated.”
International was named the top seed in the tournament and will enter the semifinals with a 14-1-1 record. The Jaguars have a pair of wins over Gateway this season winning 3-1 and 2-1. International also picked up a 2-1 victory over Arcata in its NCS quarterfinal match.
Del Norte tied Arcata 1-1 in the first game of the season, but topped the Tigers 3-0 and 3-2 in extra time in their other two meetings this year.
“We will see what the International game brings us, but I think we will play better,” Sanyaolu said. “We will give it our best shot and just talk about some of the lapses that we saw in the Gateway game and plug those holes.
“I want us to play a good passing game because I hear that they pass the ball well and they are fast. We want to try to match them fire for fire and get some good shots on goal. We look forward to a good game.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .