SACRAMENTO — Next?
Surviving a sun-baked McClatchy goal just after halftime, Davis High earned a trip to the boys soccer Final Four with a late penalty kick by Collin Holtz.
The senior forward’s conversion gave the Blue Devils an emotional 2-1 Sac-Joaquin Section playoff victory on the road Thursday.
With the win, DHS travels to Granite Bay on Wednesday for a semifinal contest.
As a blue, cloud-filled sky greeted the combatants with temperatures in the low 70s on Thursday, the two squads worked to familiarize themselves with each other and the turf, still spitting up moisture from Wednesday night’s rain.
At 5:11, Holtz broke loose up the middle, then passed right to a perfectly positioned Cameron Cuvelier. A couple of quick touches put Cuvelier in a great spot and the senior launched a worm-finder that rolled into the far corner of the goal.
Lion keeper Carter Giroux was screened on the play by his own defender and made no move on Cuvelier’s shot.
From there, back-and-forth went the action with McClatchy actually getting the better of Davis in possession time and shots on goal (8-6) until intermission.
But Devil defender Jacob Rutheiser was part of a back-line defense that repeatedly found answers to a relentless Lion attack.
Rutheiser was especially taxed as McClatchy played left-footed soccer in the first half. Trying time-after-time to come through the senior back and his left-hand man Rami Rashmawi, the pair kept the Metro League champions out of goal.
“We are playing our formation better,” Rutheiser said. “And this team has come together (late in the) season. We are talking to each other, communicating a lot better.”
As wild as the first-half action was in front of the two goals, the pace in the middle of the field in the second period was relentless …
McClatchy’s only shot of the final 40 minutes (at 43:41) was a sun-aided anomaly as Lion Victor Castro launched a set piece toward DHS netminder Derek Pleasants, now playing in the east goal.
Those lovely full clouds had dissipated and the bright sun became a troublesome backdrop as Pleasants lunged to stop Castro’s serve.
The ball bounced off both of Pleasants’ hands and sat for a split second in air behind the brilliant Blue Devil goalie before Tyler Ferguson nudged it home for the Lions equalizer.
Pleasants was reluctant to use the sun as an excuse, but admitted it blinded him.
“That hasn’t happened to me in 14 years of soccer. Never,” Pleasants said.
Tied at 1-1, the game took on a different feel.
Physical play was ratcheted up. First, Paul Hinton got a yellow card for Davis, then a couple of Lions were carded.
In the 73rd minute, with the game very much in the balance, Alex Herman’s long entry pass resulted in Holtz getting hammered in the box — and earning the game-winning penalty shot.
Frustration set in for McClatchy immediately after the PK, Giroux was given a dissention red card, sent from the game and the Lions (17-1-2) were forced to play a man down in the waning minutes of the quarterfinal match.
“We have a lot of heart. We came back and came back and came back,” interim DHS coach Alex Park said after the defending section champs ran their record to 14-4-5. “The back line and the keeper are probably the reason we’re here.”
In addition to Rutheisher and Rashmawi, Alexander Nelson and Connor Anderson provided bend-but-not-broken efforts that eventually forced McClatchy out of its passing game into a launch-from-afar style that became easier to defend as the game when on.
Notes: With Rashmawi playing so well in back, Park has been able to give Lee LeVerrier (back) some rest; then when he does play, the senior speedster has been playing midfield, adding needed firepower up front. Herman, D.J. Villegas and Raya did admirable jobs keeping McClatchy off the ball and sending forward passes that gave Davis some tantalizing chances. … DHS outshot the Lions, 11-10. … Granite Bay (19-3-1) topped West (Tracy), 2-1, to advance. The Grizzlies beat the Devils, 1-0, on Sept. 5. … Former DHS soccer coach Ashley Yudin joined a crowd of about 300 at the game.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.