By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
First came the goal, and then the cartwheel. Even that wasn’t enough to celebrate a tiebreaking score in the 77th minute of a North Coast Section Division 1 semifinal game, so Montgomery’s Jen Yacuta turned to her bench and broke into a well-executed shimmy.
“I call it the noodle,” Yacuta said after leading the third-seeded Vikings to a 1-0 victory over No. 7 Rancho Cotate. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna dedicate this. If I score a goal I’m gonna do my flip and my noodle.’”
After the Vikings were done celebrating and dogpiling in the middle of the field after the win, Yacuta got dizzy and briefly crumpled to the ground. It was a pretty exciting night all around.
With the game scoreless and the clock winding down, Montgomery’s Isabella Beal grazed the ball with her left foot as she collided with a Rancho defender. The ball skipped ahead to Yacuta, who faced forward, got a look at the goal and planted a shot in the right corner of the net.
Monty is one win away from the D1 championship, but will have to upend undefeated Maria Carrillo to get there. They play 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Santa Rosa High.
Before Yacuta’s climactic play, it had been a maddening second half for the Vikings, who dominated the ball but had no goals to show for it.
“We thought it was gonna come,” Montgomery coach Pat McDonald said. “But it’s frustrating, I’ll tell you that. I told the linesman I was gonna die if we didn’t score, if we lost this game. Because they were doing so well on the attack.”
Montgomery wound up with 22 shots to Rancho Cotate’s eight, and had several close misses after halftime.
In the 42nd minute, Katie Woodrum bent a 30-yard free kick to Cougars goalkeeper Vickie Espinoza, who failed to field it cleanly.
Monty’s Paige McMahon and Taylor Ziemer wound up making contact with the ball in a crowd just outside the net, but after a quick conference, the officials ruled the ball never crossed the line.
In the 57th minute, Ziemer was clipped by Espinoza to the left of the net and went down in a heap, but didn’t get the call. Four minutes later, Woodrum sent a crisp inlet pass to sophomore Taylor Fager, who headed the ball wide of the goal.
To their credit, the Vikings never bickered, never pouted and never stopped pressing the attack.
“We were just thinking the whole time, let’s keep composure,” Yacuta said. “Let’s play with urgency, but not with panic, and I felt like we did that really good.”
It was Montgomery’s third victory of the season over North Bay League foe Rancho Cotate — each of them by one goal.
The Cougars (12-11-2) played Montgomery (17-6-1) much more evenly in the first 40 minutes, and probably had the half’s best scoring opportunity.
In the 12th minute, Rancho’s Kathryn Kane got past two defenders and blasted a shot from about 15 yards out. Vikings goalkeeper Shyniah Austin had to dive to her right and push the ball out of harm’s way.
Those sorts of chances were rare for Rancho Cotate after halftime.
“They definitely outworked us in the second half,” Cougars coach Dennis Holmberg said. “They outworked us, and they took it to us. Our girls were flat. They got the break, and they got it in, and they didn’t let us get another chance.”
Still, it was a memorable campaign for Rancho Cotate in Holmberg’s first year as varsity coach. The Cougars made it to the section semifinals for the first time in school history, and made favored Montgomery sweat for 77 minutes.
Holmberg is already looking forward to next year.
“The further we get, it’s gonna make the girls more hungry,” he said. “We pulled up four JV players. They got to look at the different pace of the game, and hopefully we’re looking to those girls to pass on the experience next year.”
The Vikings need look ahead only a couple days. Seniors like Yacuta, Woodrum and McMahon remember losing to Maria Carrillo 5-0 in the championship game a year ago. They’re determined to make this one tighter.
“Carrillo is a better team on paper, for sure,” McDonald said. “And they should win. They’re on a roll, and they should win, but we’ll go out and we’ll do our best.”