ROCKVILLE – It was a waiting game for Rockville High School to see when Felix Rivera would score against Blake High School in the 3A West Region II title match.
Smothered by defenders all night, Rivera was kept well-guarded because Blake knew the moment he got a modicum of space, they would be in trouble. With less than two minutes left, Rivera shot the game-winning goal to prove their premonitions right.
“Luckily my teammates, they got my back. They sent me a good through ball and I was able to finish it,” said Rivera.
Rivera’s late game-winner was enough for Rockville to earn a 2-1 victory on Oct. 29, winning the regional title and a berth into the state quarterfinals.
Rockville was going up against an underdog in Blake, a team that last year won a single game. After the single-win season, Blake pulled an about-face to make a deep playoff run, compared to their first-round exit the prior year. Coming into this game, both teams were on nearly even ground. Rockville came in with six wins and two ties compared to Blake’s five wins and three ties, with both teams accumulating four losses.
“The boys worked their but off. They had a fantastic season, I’m really proud of them,” said Blake Head Coach Nougais Metellus.
The high stakes made for a physical match, evidenced by the play on the field and the ensuing crowd reaction. Referees were heckled for the lack of calls as players dropped and the lines separating theatrics, clean play and legitimate fouls were blurred in the heat of the moment. Three yellow cards were awarded the entire match, all in the first half. Rockville’s Stuart Blanco and Hector Alvarez were given yellow cards as well as Blake’s Kevin Contreras.
Both teams played with an emphasis on possession, knowing that their backline was sturdy enough to support themselves: where it differed was on each team’s approach to attacking. The Bengals opted to try to pass upfield and crowd the Rams’ half until an opportunity presented itself, while Rockville tried to feed the ball to Rivera, at times the sole striker upfield, whenever possible. Blake had to deal with rushing back to defend against counterattacks, while Rockville struggled to connect with Rivera as he was often caught offsides.
“We knew that we were going to have a very hard time with them,” said Rockville Head Coach Julio Zarate. “We had to change a few times, the formations, to contain them.”
Blake regretted missing a few early shots that could have put the game away, but credit is due for Rockville goalkeeper Juan Martinez, whose acrobatic performance in front of the net helped keep Blake to scoring only once.
“It was tough in the first half, they kept attacking,” said Martinez. “We just tried to stay composed, back in the defense. I made some saves, I don’t know how I did, but I made them.”
Within the first 20 minutes, Blake missed some of the clearest chances at a goal that they would have the entire game. A shot in the 15th minute that ricocheted off the goal post landed at the feet of a Blake player in front of the net, but Martinez’ quick reflexes denied them an early goal.
The first goal of the game came six minutes into the second half when Rivera dribbled past defenders on the left flank and crossed the ball to Jefferson Perez, who tapped it in past Blake goalkeeper Anthony Lucero.
Minutes later, Blake’s Aidan McFate fouled Blanco in the box, earning Rockville a penalty. Rivera stepped up to take it, but could not convert it for their second goal.
With nine minutes left, Blake’s Alex Maldonado dribbled past the Rockville defense and netted Blake’s first goal, finally converting after several close calls.
With the game tied up, an overtime period loomed for two teams already exhausted. Looking to put the game away, both teams tried to score but were met by stiff defenses. Rockville, once again looking towards Rivera, shot a pass his way. Lucero came out to try to clear it, but Rivera chipped the ball over his head, forcing everyone to watch the ball bounce into the net and Blake’s playoff chances evaporate at the same time.
“It feels really good,” said Perez. “I gave an assist; it feels really good. The team worked so hard to get here, and keep going.”
With the win, Rockville will travel to face No. 2 Hereford in the state quarterfinals on Nov. 1-2.