Division I-A soccer | Truckee boys earn eighth state championship with stunning comeback
HENDERSON, Nev. — Few soccer teams are equipped to come back from a 3-0 deficit.
But the Truckee boys are no ordinary soccer team.
The Wolverines fell behind 3-0 in the first 30 minutes to a large and skilled Chaparral team in the Division I-A state championship in Henderson on Saturday, seemingly crushing their hopes of bringing home an NIAA record eighth state title.
Down but not out, Truckee closed the gap to 3-1 by halftime, then stormed back with two second-half goals to force a sudden-death overtime.
After surviving a barrage of dangerous Chaparral corner kicks and long throw-ins throughout two 15-minute overtimes, the Wolverines converted all five of their chances in a dramatic penalty shootout, while Truckee goalie Gabby Serna came through with a clutch save that earned the Wolverines the state title by a 5-3 margin.
“I still can’t believe it. It’s kind of just a haze,” said Truckee coach Casey Eberhardt, water dripping from his head after his players dumped a cooler on him. “The boys came out and played hard. We knew we could battle back from anything.”
Truckee’s effort in the unlikely comeback earned the respect of Chaparral coach Eric Rolwing, whose second-seeded Cowboys defeated top Northern seed Sparks, 2-0, Friday night to advance to the title game.
“Truckee did a heck of a job to stay with it and come back. All credit to Truckee,” Rolwing said. “That was a great comeback. They’re worthy champions.”
The Wolverines, who defeated top Southern seed Sunrise Mountain, 3-2, in their state semifinal Friday night, carried an air of confidence into the penalty shootout. And for good reason.
Each team chose five players to attempt one penalty kick (PK) apiece, taken from 12 yards out and with no one but the shooter and goalie involved. Truckee liked its chances with its five capable scorers selected — Thomas Arnstein, Jordan Fereira, Leo Villa, Manny Sarabia and David Martinez.
“They (the Cowboys) didn’t want to go to PKs; we wanted to go to PKs,” said Arnstein, who set the NIAA’s single-season Division I-A scoring record, with 45 goals.
Arnstein went first as both teams watched from the midfield and hundreds of fans crowded the sideline in anticipation. The talented lefty set the tone by hitting a low shot past the diving reach of Chaparral goalie Gerardo Skewes.
Ramiro Alvarado led off for the Cowboys and converted a low shot just past the dive of Truckee All-League goalie Gabby Serna, knotting the shootout at 1-1.
After Fereira connected inside the left post for Truckee’s second PK, Chaparral forward Jose Morales, who scored two of the Cowboys’ goals in regulation, sent a hard shot to Serna’s left. But Serna was on his game and smothered the attempt with a diving stop, giving the Wolverines a 2-1 advantage heading into the third round.
Villa, who scored four times in the state tournament, followed with another low goal just inside the left post before Gavynn Mossiah answered with a successful attempt for Chaparral. Sarabia followed with a line drive to the left of Skewes. But Omar Miranda answered to keep the Cowboys alive.
Leading 4-3, and needing just one more goal to secure the victory, Martinez stepped calmly into the box.
“I was under a lot of pressure, but I knew I had to put it in,” Martinez said. “I knew I could, though. I have a lot of faith in myself.”
The senior co-captain blasted a high shot to Skewes’ left, bulging the back of the net as Truckee players and fans erupted into celebration.
“I was just in shock,” Martinez said of the outcome. “When everybody rushed me, I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know how to react. But we deserved it. We talked about it since the beginning of the season. We said that this was a team that was going to win state.”
Eberhardt credited Serna for his crucial save against one of the Cowboys’ top offensive threats.
“Gabby is an unbelievable keeper,” he said. “First team goalkeeper two years in a row now. His reflexes are there, and he has the skill to get to the ball. I knew he was going to get one, and he got close on two others. He guessed right pretty much every time on where they were going. It was his day.”
“We were pretty confident,” Villa said. “We knew that their goalie was really good, but we practice our PKs and felt good about it. I’m really glad we won state. I was not about to go my whole soccer career without winning state, so I’m pretty stoked about it.”
The state championship was Truckee’s first since 2008, when the Wolverines completed a run of back-to-back titles. But that was before the Division I-A (then called the 3A) gained a number of large schools from the Division I, including Chaparral, a school of more than 2,000 students compared to Truckee’s roughly 600. Since the division change, the Wolverines have consistently played into the state tournament but have always come up short.
“It’s amazing to be able to bring it back to Truckee,” Sarabia said. “I know my brothers are going to be happy, especially Jose. This one is for him. I’ll get one for me later. I’m just happy to play on this team. What a great way to end the season.”
“It means more than anything to me,” said Fereira, who conceded that he was exhausted after Saturday’s marathon battle concluded. “This was probably my last competitive soccer game, and to end it with this team and with this win, it’s pretty incredible.”
“I’m real pumped,” said Nick Oberriter, a senior who, along with fellow senior defender Jake Lahr, came up with countless key plays to help force the penalty shootout. “We have a great midfield. Everybody just played their hearts out. We just wanted it so bad. It’s amazing. I’m so happy.”
“It’s perfect,” Arnstein said. “It’s just the way it was supposed to be.”
A penalty shootout did not seem likely after the first 30 minutes.
Despite pressuring the Chaparral goal after the opening kickoff, Truckee found itself in an early hole when Morales headed in a long through-ball in the eighth minute. Omar Carranza doubled the Cowboys’ lead with a goal that resulted from a long throw-in taken by Lester Izquierdo in the 20th minute.
Morales then extended the margin to 3-0 in the 28th minute with a well-placed angled shot into the upper corner of the goal from about 10 yards out.
The Wolverines were undeterred.
“I wasn’t worried,” Villa said. “We were still in the first half.”
About five minutes before the half, Truckee shaved the lead to 3-1 when Izquierdo tried to clear a ball directly in front of the net but instead kicked it into his own goal. Had Izquierdo not gotten his foot on it, however, a quickly closing Sarabia would likely have scored easily.
Truckee adjusted the score to 3-2 about 30 seconds into the second half, as Villa deftly hit what he called a scissor kick into the top right corner of the goal. “Killed that spider,” he said.
Play went back and forth until the 67th minute. As the result of a Chaparral foul, Arnstein delivered a long, slicing free kick from near the sideline that Sarabia got his head on, knocking it past Skewes for the tying score.
“We rallied,” Arnstein said. “I told everyone (after falling behind 3-0), ‘Let’s pick our heads up. It’s not over.’ And we just kept battling and got one before the half. And then when we got another one we knew we were going to tie it.”
While the Wolverines created some scoring chances in the two overtime periods, they were relieved to head to the penalty shootout after surviving numerous attempts by Chaparral.
With the ability to launch his throw-ins deep into the box from 30 yards, Izquierdo took nearly every throw-in for the Cowboys. Despite the many quality balls he delivered to the front of the goal, Serna and his defense came up huge time after time, with Oberriter, Lahr and Sarabia in particular clearing many attempts with clutch headers above the Chaparral attack. They did the same on every promising Chaparral corner kick.
“We’ve got to trust our teammates,” Serna said. “If it wasn’t for all of them, we wouldn’t have won this.”
“We just fought to the end,” Fereira added. “We knew our forward are really good and that they were going to get a couple goals. We just had to stay mentally focused.”
“Our captains were able to keep our team going,” Sarabia said. “We got lucky on the own-goal, but then when Leo scored the second one I just knew we were going to get it back. Eventually Tom put in a great ball for us to be able to finish it, and from there I knew it was ours.”
The Wolverines finished the year 20-4-3 overall and 18-2 against Division I-A opponents. They bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Sparks in the regional championship, receiving two goals from Villa and one from Arnstein to advance past Sunrise Mountain — the team that eliminated Truckee from last year’s state tournament — 3-2 in the state semifinal round.
“I think what makes this group special is that they believe in each other and trust each other,” said Eberhardt, who picked up his first title in his fourth year as head coach. “It doesn’t matter if we get scored on. They know that we’ll get a goal. And that’s a big reason for our success. It’s not that other teams we’ve had did not have skill. I think this group just really came together as a team, and it all happened at the right time.”
Chaparral finished 20-7-2 overall and 14-4-1 against the Division I-A.