Glencoe beats Forest Grove, claims Pacific Conference title
What a game.
With a Pacific Conference championship between Glencoe and Forest Grove hanging in the balance, the Crimson Tide's Bryan Mena and Neil Zimmerly made the necessary play when it mattered most.
Tied 1-1 with just over four minutes remaining, Mena stole the ball from the Vikings defender, dribbled up the right side and sent a perfectly placed cross to Zimmerly, who then put a left-footed touch past Forest Grove goal keeper Marco Torres, giving the Tide a 2-1 lead and setting off a raucous celebration in the south end of Dick Hendrick's Memorial Stadium on the campus of Forest Grove High.
"Bryan worked his butt off trying to get that ball, and I was making that run like coach told us to do, and he passed that ball and I put it right past the keeper," said Zimmerly.
His coach, Tom Stephens, took it a step further, praising both players, but especially noting Zimmerly's propensity to be at his best in the game's most critical moments.
"Bryan stole that ball and played a perfect ball to Neil, and that's what Neil does," Stephens said. "He makes it when it counts."
Stephens, while proud of his team, was quick to compliment Forest Grove and spoke glowingly of his team's victory due much to the difficulty of beating such a formidable opponent.
"Forest Grove is the real deal," said the Tide coach. "We knew that this is one of the hardest places to play. They played clean, they played orchestrated, they're the real deal and we knew that. This is one of the hardest places to play, because they bring it. They're great and I want you to say that. We knew what they do and we still couldn't stop it."
Vikings head coach Gracey Mosquera was surprisingly upbeat following the game, and seemed to have the proper perspective despite such a heart-wrenching defeat.
"We had the opportunity to bring the kids together after losing a tough game to McMinnville away, and I thought we put a good performance out there, but sometimes the game isn't fair," he said. "Yet, I'm very proud of my kids because they tried very hard and did their best."
Forest Grove scored the game's first goal in the third minute when senior Oscar Macias sent a header into the net off a pass from near midfield. Glencoe tied the game 22 minutes later when Mena scored one of the best goals you'll ever see in high school soccer, when the senior captain cracked a free kick laser from roughly 45 yards just over the keeper's hands and below the cross bar, tying the game 1-1.
"Bryan is a next level player, but that goal might be the best one I've seen in a while. That thing was on a rope," Stephens said.
After being dominated for much of the first half, Zimmerly noted the importance of the goal for reasons beyond the score.
"Bryan's goal put us back in the game and really gave us the confidence we needed going forward," Zimmerly said.
The two teams played the first part of the second half somewhat conservatively, seemingly feeling each other out for the opportunity necessary to strike. Forest Grove had a handful of chances in the first 10 minutes of the half, and had a free kick and subsequent second opportunity with 10 minutes remaining in regulation when Macias gathered a kick-out and hit the crossbar from 25 yards on the left side. The Crimson Tide would score six minutes later, then hold on for dear life as the Vikings narrowly missed on multiple attempts to tie it in the last two minutes.
"They had a full-on awesome look at the end, and we were holding on," said Stephens. "I can't say it enough, they're a great team."
Stephens' team entered league play with a 3-6 overall record and the coach said the turning point was before the Liberty game when former Glencoe student and friend of a number of Tide players, Fermin Alonso Jr., was tragically killed.
"That first Liberty game set the tone," Stephens said. "Fermin Alonso Jr. was a friend of a lot of these guys. That night we wrote on the white board that the season is for him, and that win might be the best win I've ever been a part of."
Glencoe went on to sweep all six conference games and now sit pretty entering this weekend's state playoffs. While proud of their effort, this wasn't really something even they saw coming.
"We started the season tough, but we had to decide whether we were going to fight or give up, and we came together," Zimmerly said. "Our goal was to finish in the top three. Sure, we knew we could win any of our games, but to win them all and be standing here as league champs is pretty surreal."
And where does Forest Grove go from here? After starting the conference season 4-0, the Vikings dropped their final two games and watched the conference title sadly slip from their fingers. Regardless, Mosquera isn't deterred and is confident his team will respond in time for the upcoming postseason.
"Right now it's not about getting better technically or tactically, it's about the mental aspect, and I'm pretty aware of the fact that when something gets in your head it can be tough," the coach said. "But we're going to do some mental training this week to get ready to go Saturday."
And can they do it?
"I'm pretty sure our guys will regroup because we just had a tough loss and the kids played well tonight in response," Mosquera said. "It's time to move forward and prepare for the playoffs."
Both teams will await their seeding and prepare for a first round playoff game this Saturda, Oct. 27.