It's been 12 years since a Colusa High boys soccer team claimed the Northern Section Division III title, but the drought ended Saturday at home with a 4-1 shootout victory over No. 2-seeded Esparto.
For the second game in a row, the top-seeded RedHawks had to go 110 minutes, plus penalty kicks, to secure a win over a Sacramento Valley League-South rival, but it was worth the wait.
While the RedHawks held the regular-season series edge, the two teams battled each other with neither being able to capitalize on scoring chances as defense prevailed.
Esparto goalie Eduardo Rodriguez was the story in the first half, turning away numerous shots, including two from point-blank range.
In the fourth minute, Colusa's Ricardo Bautista was fouled in the box and awarded a penalty kick, but Rodriguez delivered the save. Rodriguez would again deny Bautista in the 29th minute after Bautista got free on a breakaway.
During the second half and overtime periods, it was the RedHawk defense turning in impressive performances, keeping the Spartans at bay and allowing goalie Sal Lara to make relatively easy saves.
As they have all season, defenders Alex Avila, Gumer Salazar, Pedro Lopez and Jorge Hernandez handled the heavy pressure applied by the Spartans. Midfielders Christian Velez and Jorge Aguilera also figured prominently in the effort.
Thus, after a scoreless regulation and 30 minutes of overtime, the RedHawks found themselves in a shootout once again.
In the pressure situation, Colusa coach Dan Kiely turned to seniors Bautista, Aguilera, Edgar Sanchez and Heraclio Lopez, each of whom responded by delivering a score.
While Kiely determines who will kick and the order based on warm-ups, he doesn't actually watch during the shootout, explaining, "I've been through too many of these over the years for both wins and losses. I just put my head down and listen for the cheers.
"After this, however, I might start watching again," said the smiling coach.
Yet ultimately, the burden of ensuring the RedHawk win fell to Lara. Esparto's first chance went wide right, but the second shot, by leading scorer Tito Valenzuela, found the back of the net. Needing to turn away just one of the next three shots, Lara, who was Tuesday's hero, did it again, stopping the attempt by the Spartans' Ivan Vizcarra.
For Lara, having experienced PKs earlier this week was helpful, but he noted it was still nerve wracking.
"I was a little more confident today because of last game, but I was still scared," said Lara, who recorded nine saves in Saturday's win.
An emotional celebration ensued as the crowd, many of whom were Kiely's former players returning to support their coach and former team, poured onto to the pitch.
Captain Pedro Lopez is one of the players who has a connection to the past and understands the tradition that Kiely has instilled in the program, as his brother, Hernan, played on the first Colusa team to capture the championship back in 2004.
"The tradition at Colusa High School is working hard and never giving up no matter the score, no matter how much time is left," Lopez said. "Coach has taught us how to play the game the right way and it has been an honor to be part of something so special."
As the season concludes, the RedHawks will lose 12 players to graduation. Still, Kiely believes the future is bright.
"There will be many big shoes or cleats to fill next season, but I am confident that the seniors have done a good job of letting the younger players know what is expected, and they are a very talented group," Kiely said. "Today, I am just very proud of all of them."