The undefeated Mission High School Bears fought defending champions Lowell High Cardinals to a 1-1 tie on Saturday to become co-champions in the 2012 soccer championship game at Balboa Park’s Matthew J. Boxer Stadium.
This is only the fifth time in Academic Athletic Association history that two schools shared the title.
With the teams deadlocked at the end of regulation time, Mission and Lowell entered a 30-minute overtime with two 10-minute halves and two 5-minute sudden death periods. After scoreless overtime and sudden death periods, the teams were announced co-champions. According to California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) league rules, there are no penalty kicks after regulation overtime ends.
The teams and fans were shocked and disappointed.
“It feels weird. I really can’t explain it. We should have gone to penalties,” Mission High assistant coach Wilson Jimenez said.
“Everybody would have preferred to be ‘the champs.’ But I think if this game would have ended on penalty kicks, I think people would have also in a way been dissatisfied,” said Lowell head coach Marcos Estebez.
Estebez, who suffered a loss against Mission 4-2 in the regular season, added, “Both teams worked so hard and both put out so much energy trying to win this game.”
Players echoed the frustration after the game. Mission’s senior captain, Marco Caballero, said, “I don’t think it should be like this. [There] should be penalties. There shouldn’t be two champions.”
Lowell dominated the first half, winning five corner kicks to Mission’s one. During the first half the Mission High Bears never got into rhythm; they had trouble controlling the ball and passing to one another. At the half-hour mark, team captain Zack Weisenberger was able to knock in a header for a goal off a corner kick.
Minutes later, Lowell goalkeeper Abdul Monim and Mario Mejia collided in the box, putting Monim out for the rest of the game. Coach Estebez decided to put sophomore Aidan Powers-Riggs in to replace the injured Monim.
“I was nervous, but I had confidence in my team and knew what I had to do,” said Powers-Riggs.
Powers-Riggs was able to lead Lowell to a shutout for the remainder of the first half and take his team up 1-0 into the second half.
At halftime Estebez said: “I think we are doing well. Mission is always a breakaway threat. We have to make our coverages, and second defenders need to be in place. It’s warm and the midfielders are tired.”
The Bears’ Jimenez said, “The first half Lowell dominated the middle, and basically, if you dominate the middle, you are controlling the game.”
The Bears changed the pace of the game during the second half, switching their formation to put an extra forward to attack and letting their sweeper drop back to clear the ball. The Bears put pressure on Lowell the entire half, challenging the team’s conditioning, but Lowell’s second-string goalkeeper Powers-Riggs made some remarkable saves.
Estebez said Powers-Riggs’ performance was “amazing — his technique, his cat-like responses, his intuition, and his reaction time [were] a real difference-maker, and without his talents we would have lost this game.”
The Bears didn’t give up until the very end. Two minutes before the end of regulation play, Mejia received a ball inside the box and was able to give himself space to put a strike in the net, tying the match 1-1. Mejia described how he felt before he got the ball: “I was confident and secure what I had to do. Nothing is finished until the referee blows the whistle in the end.”
The referee blew the whistle a few moments later, taking the game into overtime.
Before overtime began, Mission High’s principal, Eric Guthertz, said: “Both teams are playing their hearts out, and I think both teams are getting a little tired. I hope we can pull it out.”
The Bears were again able to pressure Lowell throughout overtime, but Lowell’s goalkeeper came up with huge saves, ending the game at 1-1.
The championship trophy will be at each school for six months until the next championship game.
After the game, Powers-Riggs said: “It does not feel great. They definitely earned it. They had an undefeated season. Big props to them. It’s disappointing for sure.”
Mejia said, “I feel a little disillusioned right now because we worked hard for three months and Mission never imagined we [would] be here like this.”
According to the high school sports website SanFranPreps.com, AAA coaches are slated to discuss the controversial rule banning penalty kicks that dictated the tie and co-championship.