Oak Ridge High School’s Connor Hountalas just wanted a chance in Saturday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division I boys soccer championship game.
The junior has shared goalkeeping duties throughout the season with senior Connor Hayes. But when Hayes had a 12-save performance in a penalty-kick upset of No. 1 and nationally ranked Jesuit in the semifinals, Trojans coach Joe Champion decided to stick with the hot hand.
“Connor Hountalas was devastated, as you can imagine,” Champion said. “He’s a star on any of these teams in the whole section, as good as he is. And he was on me and said, ‘I understand your decision, but I want to be involved. Can we do half-and-half with the goalkeepers?’ Then he came and saw me again (Friday) night and said, ‘Can I do a job on the field (at another position)?’”
Hountalas wound up doing a pretty good job for the Trojans.
Subbed in at forward midway in the second half, he scored the winning goal on a header from a free kick by Connor Flynn in the 75th minute to lead Oak Ridge to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Davis at Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove. It was the Trojans’ first boys section championship in its fifth appearance in the finals, the previous four coming in D-II.
The match ended in controversy when the Davis players went wild after they thought an Oak Ridge defender committed a handball in stoppage time. The angry Blue Devils collectively surrounded referee Chris Elliot, forcing him to backpedal, and he was shoved by goalkeeper Pablo Guarnizo. Elliot blew his whistle to end the match, and Guarnizo was red-carded.
While the Davis players and fans fumed, the Oak Ridge players and fans celebrated one of the most improbable victories in section history.
Jesuit and No. 2 Granite Bay, both nationally ranked, were the favorites coming into the tournament. Oak Ridge (15-4-1) was a No. 5 seed, and No. 3 Davis (17-6), which upset Granite Bay 2-1 in the other semifinal, also is a perennial power, having won six D-I titles.
And it looked it might be a Davis walkover after Mateo Sorrentino’s remarkable 30-yard free kick in the 20th minute gave the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead while the outplayed Trojans managed just one shot in the first half. But Oak Ridge came out the aggressor in the second half, and Cole Cahill knotted the score with a goal from a scrum in front of the Davis goal midway through.
Meanwhile, Champion’s work the night before with Hountalas paid off with what he called one of those “fairy tale-type things.”
“I knew he could do a job, even though he hadn’t played on the field all season,” Champion said. “So he came out for an extra hour of training on striking the ball with me. We were trying to transform him over night.”
Champion said Hountalas’ physical play up top and ability to hold the ball was a momentum changer.
And what did Hountalas think of scoring Oak Ridge’s biggest goal of the season?
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I’m the freaking goalkeeper. I didn’t believe it happened. But it happened at the right time. We just had the heart to keep going.”
Hountalas’ header, coming just inside the penalty area, soared toward the upper left corner of the goal. Guarnizo got a piece of the ball, which grazed his head and went into the goal.
Oakdale 2, Christian Brothers 1 – Jose Barrera’s 30-yard blast late in the second overtime lifted the third-seeded Mustangs (20-5-3) over the defending D-III champion and nationally ranked Falcons (17-2-4). Trailing 1-0 late in the half, CBS forward Kristian Heptner split two defenders to score his section-leading 44th goal of the season to tied the score 1-1.
Capital Christian 2, Highlands 1 – Senior forward and four-year starter Paul Herscowitz had two goals, both on assists by Taylor Garcia, to lead the top-seeded Cougars (18-3-0) over the No. 6 Scots (12-5) and win their fourth consecutive section championship and second at D-V. Capital Christian becomes the first school to win four consecutive section titles in boys soccer since St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo won four D-II titles from 1987 to 1990.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.