East Union nearly forfeited the game on its own senior night Wednesday.
Then the Lancers were a minute away from securing a victory.
The result — go figure — was a 2-2 tie with rival Sierra.
It was a high-intensity Valley Oak League match marred by drama outside the lines, but it also had a dramatic finish as Sierra’s David Lopez scored with a header in the final minute.
The ball never touched the turf on muddy Dino Cunial Field on the deciding play. Eriq Kurys launched it into the box on a free kick, and East Union goalie Jose Modesto punched it to the top of the 18-yard line. Tarjei Hage was there to head it toward the left post, setting up Lopez’s equalizer.
“It was crazy,” Lopez said. “I knew it was coming to me, I felt it in my heart. I did what I had to do and finished it.”
The Timberwolves (7-4-2, 13-8-3) needed a win to keep up in the three-way logjam behind East Union (12-0-1, 17-1-3), which has already secured the VOL championship. The top four teams make the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Sierra was coming off a disappointing 5-3 loss to Central Catholic, now alone in second place, and is 1-4-2 in its last seven games.
“The kids stepped it up a little bit,” Sierra coach Joe Pires said. “Losing three out of four games, we’ve been on a pretty good slide, so the kids were starting to get very down on themselves. It has been a struggle.”
The end-to-end action of Wednesday’s contest was overshadowed by lengthy stoppages. Two East Union spectators were ejected, one in each half, and Lancers head coach Edger Zelaya threatened to end it after 31 minutes of play when he sensed tensions rising. Cooler heads prevailed following a 10-15-minute meeting between coaching staffs, the officials and school administrators.
Three players, two from East Union, were assessed yellow cards, as was Zelaya at halftime for initiating the big delay. Although there were heated exchanges, none were between players.
“When I started seeing that (a referee) was going crazy with the cards, I didn’t want my players to get suspended for a game,” Zelaya said. “The kids said ‘no.’ They didn’t want to stop. “
East Union forward Jesus Hurtado was glad the game resumed. He gave the Lancers their only lead in the 64th minute, cashing in after Daniel Gomez’s initial shot was blocked by Sierra keeper Saul Aguinaga (seven saves).
“A lot of people had (lobbied) to keep the game going and it was a good thing it did because it was a good game,’ Hurtado said.
Sierra was the aggressor at the start. Joel Lemus broke the ice in the fourth minute, blowing it past East Union’s first-half goalie, Enrique Garcia, after defender Nate Allen delivered a long ball from midfield.
The Lancers’ attack began to pick up steam midway through the opening half but came up empty-handed on several close-range opportunities, some of which were thwarted by Aguinaga.
“We started lazy, we started slow,” Zelaya said. “But after the whole drama they started playing better.”
East Union continued to pressure the Sierra defense, and Hector Romero finally converted in the 43rd minute. The Lancers outshot the T’wolves, 19-9.
Even with the league title already shored up, East Union wanted to continue its roll heading into the postseason. The Lancers strung together 10 straight wins after back-to-back ties against Oakdale and nonleague opponent McNair in December. Their regular season ends at Manteca next Tuesday.
“We’re trying to win every single game and get as many points as we can; unfortunately we tied in the last minute,” Hurtado said. “That was disappointing. We’re going to practice and get better at the things we need to, and continue to do the things we do well.”
Central Catholic 7,
In Modesto, Central Catholic (8-3-1, 10-5-4) scored five first-half goals in the rout.
Luis Vargas buried the Spartans’ lone goal on a free kick in the second. Lathrop dropped to 0-12-1 in league and 4-15-2 overall.
Weston Ranch ppd.
For the second time in six days, Manteca (5-4-1, 10-7-2) had a match with Weston Ranch (2-6-2, 4-10-2).
Their meeting last Friday, which was a rescheduled game to begin with, was called off when the referees deemed Weston Ranch’s field to be unplayable. And on Monday, the lights at Manteca’s Guss Schmiedt Field could not be turned on.
East Union 2, Sierra 1
Christian Tapia and Eduardo Gonzales did the scoring damage for the Lancers (9-1-1), who claimed the VOL title with the win. Adib Guedoir netted Sierra’s goal.