If playing prep sports builds character, a couple of the boys from the Davis High soccer team will be winning Nobel Peace Prizes someday after the loss they suffered on Tuesday.
Following 78 minutes of scoreless soccer in Thursday’s Sac-Joaquin Section quarterfinal match at Yudin Field, Merced was credited with the contest’s only goal on a ball that bounced in off a DHS defender.
It was a heartbreaking way to end the season for the Blue Devils (16-5-3) who, until Thursday, seemed to be peaking at the right time.
“It was possibly the worst type of goal … just a stupid mistake on our part,” said Davis senior Rami Rashmawi, who was named the Delta Valley Conference Most Valuable Player on Wednesday.
With the Devils’ trouble finishing opportunities and a local defense that was mostly brilliant but made a few mental mistakes, the quarterfinal performance was a haunting flashback to the good-but-not-great DHS squad from the early portion of the season.
Since DVC play began on Oct. 1, the Blue Devils not only hadn’t lost a game — they won the conference at 9-0-1 — but hadn’t allowed a goal in 10 of the 11 matches, including Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Napa in the section tournament opener. The only scoring blemishes in that stretch came a in a 3-3 tie against Grant that was played in gale-force winds.
“We had so many opportunities to put the ball away (Thursday) and we didn’t, we had so many defensive errors, we literally handed them that game on a silver platter,” Rashmawi said. “(This season) we accomplished some really amazing things, we only got scored on three times in the league. We started from not being able to put any balls in the goal for games on end to beating teams four or five to zero.
“This team, more than any other team I’ve played on … really played as a team. We worked hard as a team. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
That teamwork was on display Thursday as the DHS offense worked together to earn four golden opportunities in the opening 12 minutes of the game. The first chance actually went into the net before it was called back because a Devil was offside. That would set the tone for a contest that featured double-digit offside calls on the locals.
Throughout the afternoon, the top priority for the Merced defense was to slip in front of the deepest Davis attacker, forcing the Blue Devils stay back and make sure they were onside before making runs.
After the initial offside call, however, DHS adjusted and junior Joe Rainer nearly scored at the eight-minute mark but slipped while locked in a one-on-one matchup with the goalie. Two minutes later, D.J. Villages just missed on a laser shot and two minutes after that, the Devil offense beat the goalie but a Bears defender got a head on the shot attempt.
“We’ve preached that the whole season, you’ve got to put those balls away early,” said Davis coach Alex Park. “A game like this, when it drags out to the end, it becomes anybody’s game. If we put those balls in early … it’s a whole different game.
The Blue Devils had the ball in scoring position for much of the first half, taking 10 shots before intermission and holding a 4-0 advantage in corner kicks.
Though the Bears took more shots and earned four corner kicks in the second half, DHS still had its chances in the second half, including a header from Villegas that slammed into the crossbar seven minutes after halftime. Villegas, a member of the U.S. Junior Team pool, nearly scored again 15 minutes later, sacrificing his body but coming up empty. The play left the junior’s mouth bloodied and he had to leave the game.
Then, with just about two minutes to play, Merced earned a free kick deep in Devil territory. Adrian Lomeli booted the ball into a crowd of players in front of the goal and it glanced off a DHS defender before finding the net.
“It was a bad bounce,” Park said. “That’s something you learn about soccer, anything can happen and not necessarily the best team (wins). But I thought that team was good, they didn’t get rattled when we almost scored. They really stayed in it.”