A last-minute goal lifted the Washington boys to a 2-1 victory over Arcadia in the 4A soccer championship game Feb. 25.
Tied 1-1 with 34 seconds left in the game, the Rams drew a foul, and had a free kick mere yards away from the top of the goal box.
Seniors Melvin Barrera and Jose Contreras stood over the ball discussing their plan of attack. Contreras knelt to say a prayer before the last-ditch attempt to win the game in regulation. He eventually moved aside to let Barrera take the kick.
“I was just thinking about getting it over the wall and into the top right corner. I just did what I do every time, just get in the moment and think about striking the ball,” Barrera said.
Meanwhile, coach Adam Roberts was thinking about what the strategy might be if they had to play an extra period.
“I was calm as can be at that point. I’m looking at it going, ‘He’s going to go ahead and take this shot. And we’re going to put it in or we’re going into overtime,’” Roberts said.
Barrera struck the ball hard and with spin. It sailed just past the outstretched hand of Arcadia’s goalkeeper and into the back-right corner of the net. The Rams knew they had all but clinched.
Arcadia had just 30 seconds left, not nearly enough to move the ball down the field and score on the Rams’ stout back line.
“There’s absolutely no time to do anything after kickoff,” Barrera said.
Despite losing, the Titans actually came out as the better side at first. While Washington displayed more speed and better passing ability from kickoff, Arcadia was stronger and better on set pieces. It struck first on a header from a corner kick in the 15th minute. It was the Titans’ lone shot on goal in the half, but they made it count.
Meanwhile, the Rams held the ball significantly more, but could not make the final touch or pass to create much of a legitimate threat on goal. The Titans led 1-0 at half.
Roberts changed up the game plan in the break. He moved to a formation with three defenders rather than four, opting for a more aggressive style of play. The formation led to even more possession of the ball and chances on net, including a head-in goal from sophomore Cesar Morquecho in the 46th minute - to tie the score.
While lacking an extra defender, the Rams controlled the game and pace so much a lack of numbers never became an issue.
“I’ve always said the best defense is a good offense in we have the ball, we can score and they can’t,” Roberts said.
Washington’s midfielders and defenders still played back dominated the field, and they did not allow any shots on goal in the second half. Meanwhile, the seventh attempt on net of the half was Barrera’s strike, leading to a wild celebration. He could only laugh when shown a yellow card for excessive celebration after taking off his shirt and waving it above his head to the crowd.
The players were so elated after the goal they nearly spilled into the stands. In their postgame cheers, the players lifted Roberts on their shoulders and cheered “Ole.”
The championship comes just a season after Washington’s 2018-19 campaign was doomed by a player being ruled ineligible late in the year. The Rams had to forfeit several of their wins and a very talented team missed a chance at playoffs.
For those who remain from last year’s team, hoisting a golden ball was a bit of redemption.
“It’s just a fantastic feeling for these young men,” Roberts said.