CARMICHAEL – The Merced soccer team knew what was coming.
The Bears have squared off with top-seeded Jesuit twice in the last year, including the 2012 Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 soccer semifinal. But knowing about the Marauders' counterattack and slowing it down are two different things.
The Marauders used that transition speed on Wednesday afternoon to score two goals in the final minute of the first half of their section semifinal match and cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Bears.
Saturday’s championship will be a rematch of last year’s after Granite Bay defeated Pitman 2-1 in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
"Those two goals just crushed us," said Merced coach Bart McAfee, whose team trailed 1-0 before the scores. "Everything we had going was just erased.
"Anytime we made a bad pass, they jumped on it. We knew what they were going to do against us, but we just couldn't react fast enough."
The game started at a breakneck pace, with Merced (21-8-1) going head-to-head with Jesuit (26-0-3) in terms of possession.
The only difference was Merced passed up a number of opportunities while looking for easier shots. As a result, the Bears managed only one shot on goal in the first half.
Jesuit countered with nine, opening the scoring in the 16th minute when Merced failed to clear the ball.
John Bovill intercepted an errant Merced clearance and then shredded the defense with a run down the right wing. Four players dove in at Bovill, but the senior buried his shot to make it 1-0.
The game changed after that.
The confidence Merced took the field with wilted, and the Bears began giving away possessions.
It finally burned them in the 40th minute when Bovill wasn't picked up on a 30-yard run. Tucker Bone quickly switched the ball to him, and the unmarked midfielder easily finished to make it 2-0.
Before Merced could even catch its breath, Kyle Clark made it 3-0. Another turnover in the defensive third sprung Clark free and he danced through a couple defenders before sneaking a shot past Jon Carlo Tomayo (two saves).
"When we went down 1-0, we still felt OK," sweeper Billy Thao said. "We knew we were still in it.
"That second goal got us. We still probably had our heads down and they scored the third."
Merced knew it was an uphill battle from there, with Jesuit surrendering just three goals once this season. The Bears hopes were dashed when the Marauders scored three minutes into the second half.
Bovill turned playmaker as he one-touched a perfect cross to a wide-open Evan Barrett. The senior striker unloaded from just inside the 18-yard box to make it 4-0.
Merced got on the board a couple minutes later when Meng Moua spun and fired a low drive toward the far post. Goalkeeper Luc Barbe made a diving save on the play, but redirected the rebound right to Eric Figueroa. The left winger one-timed the ball home, cutting the lead to 4-1.
The momentum didn't last, however, as Jesuit caught the Bears out again and answered with a fifth goal just two minutes later.
"We figured we needed to get as many goals as we could in the first half," Jesuit coach Paul Rose said. "Getting those two just before the half was a big momentum swing, but one I thought we deserved.
"With the way that Merced plays, we wanted to spread the ball out and see if we could tire them out. I think those two goals were a result of that."