Weston Ranch’s coronation looked as if it was going to be delayed.
Manteca had momentum and a 2-0 lead on its side in the opening minutes of the second half at Guss Schmiedt Field. The visiting Cougars were hoping to earn a share of their first-ever Valley Oak League championship on Wednesday … and did.
Joseph Mayorca scored two second-half goals, including the game-winner in the 79th minute to lift Weston Ranch to a dramatic — and historic — 3-2 come-from-behind victory. The Cougars tallied the tying and go-ahead goals in the final three minutes of the match.
“It came down to a battle in the end and the kids found a little extra in themselves. What a game,” Weston Ranch coach Francisco Cisneros said.
Hector Maldonado was awarded a penalty kick in the 77th minute and converted the equalizer. Then, with less than two minutes to go, Mayorca decided to take a chance with a long-range attempt from about 35 yards out. He struck it high and with pace, fitting it just between the outstretched arms of Manteca keeper Jose Zamarripa and the crossbar.
“I just saw an open opportunity,” Mayorca said. “I think I’m pretty good taking shots from the outside so I had to take it. I sacrificed (the possession) and it ended up being a good sacrifice.”
Weston Ranch (12-0 VOL, 19-2-3 overall) is now 17-0-2 since the midway point of league last year. Its last VOL loss was a 3-2 setback against Sierra on Oct. 8, 2013. The Cougars are currently riding a 13-game winning streak, one started by a 6-3 win over Edison (Stockton) which had blown an early 3-0 lead in Weston Ranch’s final non-league match of the season.
“These guys are special,” Cisneros said. “They just find a way. They’ve had their backs against the wall in a couple games and they responded every single time.
Mayorca sliced the deficit in half in the 58th minute, giving Weston Ranch a much-needed spark. Up until that point, Manteca (7-4-1, 12-5-2) had the slight edge in possession and was on an emotional high after Marcus Montano’s breakaway goal doubled its lead.
Jason Maravilla scored first in the 29th minute on a counterattack kick started by defender Carlos Belmonte. He pushed it wide to Montano, who dished it ahead to the streaking Maravilla with a lobbed pass on the first touch.
The Buffaloes needed little motivation to get up for this one. For one, they are vying for the VOL’s third final Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth. They also still felt the sting of their previous 5-3 loss to Weston Ranch, which rolled to a 5-0 halftime lead.
“We were embarrassed with the way we showed ourselves the last time,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “The guys sort of took it personally and have been working hard since. We came in with a really good game plan and switched our formation around a little bit. The guys did a great job.
“We were disciplined, we executed and they bought into the plan. I couldn’t be more happy with the way we played, it’s hard to shut out a team that has that much offensive power.”
It all started with Mayorca, who now has an area-high 29 goals on the season. Weston Ranch thoroughly dominated the final 30 minutes of the match and had a 17-6 advantage in shot attempts in the second half.
Manteca went into a defensive shell, moving Montano from the striker spot to the back line. The Buffaloes could only hold for so long, despite the admirable efforts of the diminutive Zamarripa.
Although Zamarripa, who finished with eight saves, could not get to Mayorca’s game-winning shot, he earlier thwarted similar attempts by Omar Centeno and Esteban Paramo by slapping the ball over the crossbar.
“He stepped up,” Coenenberg said of Zamarripa. “That, by far, was the best game I’ve seen him play. I couldn’t be more proud of him and everybody else. They gave me everything they had and at the end of the day that’s all I could ask for.”
Manteca is tied with East Union for third place with two games remaining. The Buffaloes host always-dangerous Lathrop on Monday and heads to East Union on Wednesday for what will likely be a duel for a postseason bid.
Weston Ranch plays out the rest of its league schedule at home, starting with Monday’s contest against second-place Oakdale.
“We’re going to celebrate tonight but we’re not getting overconfident,” Paramo said. “We still have two good teams ahead of us and we want to take it all the way and finish undefeated for the first time.”
Weston Ranch 4
Josue Nunez and Alexis Ochoa each struck for two goals, as the Buffaloes (7-3) remain in a three-way tie for second place in the VOL.
David Gonzalez and Fernando Rocha added a goal each.