NCS boys soccer: Goal in stoppage lifts Cougars over Trojans

By PETER FOURNIER

FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

ROHNERT PARK — Soccer matches aren’t supposed to end on a “buzzer-beating” goal, but that’s pretty much how sophomore Mario Gomez punched Rancho Cotate’s ticket to face Montgomery in the NCS semifinals on Wednesday.

Gomez’s turnaround, no-look shot hit the back of the net in the last seconds of stoppage time in the second half Saturday. Then the referee’s whistle blew almost instantaneously, signaling the end of the match — that quickly — and a 1-0 win for the Cougars over Petaluma in the second round of the North Coast Section Division 1 playoffs.

As those in attendance tried to understand what had just happened, the jubilation and pandemonium on Rancho’s side was apparent, as the bench stormed toward Gomez on the sideline, piling on top of him to celebrate the unbelievable and exhilarating game-winner which he essentially kicked with a prayer.

“I just saw it go toward the net,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was going to go into the net or not. Just hope for the best, and it happened.”
It’s not as if Gomez hadn’t had his chances throughout the match. “I was trying, trying and trying,” he said. The effort was apparent. He had several shots on goal that were either saved, went wide or sailed just over the crossbar, but when his final shot went in the net, he was relieved.

“When that ball went down, and that volley and that beautiful shot right on the whistle, that was just icing,” Cougars coach Eamon Kelly said, adding “I’ve never seen — in high school soccer — a classic finish like that.”

On the other side of the pitch, there was disbelief, anger and heartbreak. A Petaluma assistant coach confronted the head referee — who left before being given a chance to comment on the quick whistle — at midfield after the match was finished.

Trojans head coach Greg Lamansky said he has never seen a match end without the ball in play, which it was not — it was in the back of the net, but he didn’t want to blame the quick call for the final result. Lamansky said the head referee “has no explanation” on the quick goal.

“Even if there was seconds, that didn’t make a difference,” Lamansky said. “That wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome. Even if they just had it kicked in.”

The match had been a physical contest for the 80 minutes, with both teams sharing possession for most of the first half and the Cougars slowly taking control of possession and increasing their attack on the Petaluma goal in the second.

Kelly said his team was flustered in the first half adjusting to Petaluma’s physical play.

“Our boys weren’t ready for such a physical match, and I think it got in their head, but once they settled down, and once we talked to them at halftime. … I think we took control in the second half,” he said.

Kelly couldn’t complain about the ending. “I didn’t want any more time because I knew this team was capable of coming back,” he said. “I thought, even if we did go into overtime, we were starting to take control of the game in the second half, so I knew as long as they didn’t put one in, we had the best chance in overtime.”