La Costa Canyon boys’ soccer coach Craig Dean tends to be pretty positive when the topic is his team. But even the optimistic Dean couldn’t have anticipated that his fifth-seeded Mavericks would rebound, from a 2-0 halftime deficit, on the road, to stun top-seeded Torrey Pines in overtime, 3-2, in Wednesday night’s CIF Open Division semi-final. The victory catapults La Costa Canyon (13-6-6) into Friday night’s CIF title game, at Mission Bay High School, against San Marcos (19-1-4), a 5-1 winner over Cathedral Catholic in the other semi-final. That match is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m.
In a tumultuous season where inconsistency and bad luck have been intertwined with stretches of brilliance, it was only fitting that the Mavericks earned their biggest win of the year in a game where they gave up two goals in less than a minute’s span, were still down two goals against the undefeated, No. 1-ranked team in the state with just 25 minutes to go and had a wrong-footed, game-tying goal scored by a defender. Wednesday night made all the challenges worthwhile for Dean and his charges.
“This is, for me as a coach, my proudest season because of all the adversity we’ve faced,” said Dean, whose team had gone 0-2-1 in three previous meetings with the Falcons. “Mid-season, we had a tough stretch (an 0-3-2 league run) and our message was always to think about the bigger picture. They trusted, kept pushing and struggling—I told them, we only need to beat Torrey Pines once and they knew what I was talking about.”
The favored Falcons controlled much of the first half and broke through at 28:35 when 6-foot-3 Santiago Majewski headed a throw-in from fellow senior Connor Wood into the right side of the net. Less than a minute later, Torrey Pines was threatening again and a rebound ended up on the foot of always dangerous senior Denzel Sepeda. The shifty Sepeda, evaded one defender and from just inside the box hit a bad-angled laser that found the far side netting, giving the Falcons total command at 2-0 and putting the visitors on the ropes.
That’s how it stayed until the break where Dean provided a reminder and a challenge for his club. “For a coach, 2-0 might be the most dangerous score in soccer,” said Dean, knowing his opponent could become a bit over-confident, yet it would only take one tally to shift the feel of the game. “We touched on that and our main message was ‘act like you’ve been there before.’ In the first half we were acting like we were out of place—losing our cool, worrying about the referee and doing things we hadn’t done all year.
“We talked to them about being mature men, playing like men and whether we went up or down, to finish the game like men.”
Although coming out with renewed purpose, LCC saw the home team nearly seal the deal twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Sepeda got free and hit the post and Maverick goalkeeper Gavin Simmons had to make a point blank save moments later.
But with just over 25 minutes remaining in regulation, Dean’s troops got the break they needed. A Torrey Pines error trying to clear the ball out of its own end resulted in a Maverick throw-in. Junior Jake Aaknes delivered a long ball that appeared to glance off one or even two Falcons before somehow finding its way into the net for an own goal. With the objective clearly sight, the Mavericks turned up the heat. Seniors Jacob Chong and Tate Duncan both had near misses but with less than 10 minutes to go the now defensive-minded Falcons were still clinging to their one goal advantage.
Dean made a move to create more pressure, moving senior defender Liam Filler up front with seven minutes left. In the game’s final minute, that decision paid off big time when a ball played into the 18 was laid off to Filler. As the ball came across his body, the right-footed Filler, forced to use his left foot, put it in at the near post to tie the game, his first of the season.
“I really didn’t have a choice, I just had to do it,” said Filler afterward. “It was definitely the biggest goal I’ve ever scored. I think I’m as excited as I could ever be—look at everyone here.” There was still work to do, however.
Just over 10 minutes into a frenetic back-and-forth overtime period, less than five minutes from the game being resolved by the dreaded penalty kick shootout, Chong, LCC’s leading scorer, got the ball in prime position and finished things off.
“Brandon (Lopez) crossed it, Tate (Duncan) got the flick, it went through the goalie’s legs and I was there to tap it in,” smiled Chong. “We’ve had our ups and downs this year but when CIF got here, my team came up for the challenge.”
It was a bitter conclusion for Torrey Pines’ Head Coach Andy Hargreaves whose team had been near perfect reaching this juncture. “It’s tough to keep them (LCC) down, but we were up, 2-0, should have been 3-0, and you can’t ask for a better position than that,” he said. “We didn’t close it out.
“This season has been all I could have asked for and I couldn’t be happier with the way our team has played. This was just one of those games—if you don’t manage it and close it out when you have the opportunity, it can come back to get you.”
When asked if this was his biggest coaching win, Dean wasn’t sure, but said, “I can’t think of another one.
“We just played against a team that was 21-0-5 and deserved every bit of what they have,” he continued. “It took our best night and a couple of lucky bounces for us to beat them. They’re a quality side. It’s a great feeling.”
The Mavericks now must turn their attention quickly to Friday night’s match-up with a formidable, senior-laden San Marcos squad that’s only loss came on Dec. 14 against defending Open champion St. Augustine.
“I want to let the boys enjoy this, it was a huge win, but we’re not done,” said Dean. “We’ve got to come back tomorrow, get our heads level and completely focus on that next game.”