Division III soccer | Incline boys win third straight title in thriller
ZEPHYR COVE — In a span of 13 minutes in Saturday’s Division III boys soccer state championship, Incline went from devastation to elation. North Tahoe appeared to stop the Highlanders short of a third consecutive state title, then suffered a cruelly opposite fate.
“It was just crazy,” Highlanders midfielder Sal Vargas said.
The top-seeded Highlanders and second-seeded Lakers combined for six goals in 19-minute stretch in the second half — then Incline scored twice in two minutes to win 5-4 on a strike from forward Victor Herrera.
With the victory in the match played at Whittell High, Incline became the first boys soccer team in state history to win three straight Nevada state championships.
“It feels amazing — I love these guys like they’re my brothers, and making all of us three-time state champions is such an honor,” Herrera said.
In the last minute of regulation, Herrera took a long through-ball from Vargas and blasted a shot from the right side of the box past Lakers goalkeeper Trent Lingruen for the game-winning goal. Herrera was mobbed by his teammates on the Highlanders’ sideline after scoring.
“I saw the ball coming at me, I stopped it and I shot it — I hit it really hard,” Herrera said. “When I saw the ball go in the net and I turned around and saw all my teammates running at me; it was just the happiest moment.”
Herrera’s goal marked the third lead change in the final 20 minutes of the match, and lifted Incline (16-4-2) to the championship. Two minutes earlier, Vargas tied the match with a free kick from 20 yards out — the midfielder fired a low line drive into the left corner of the goal to set the stage for the Highlanders’ dramatic late rally.
“I knew the goalie was tall, so I wanted to rip it down low and hopefully it goes in — that’s what happened,” Vargas said. “It looked good — when I hit it, it felt like it was going in.”
At halftime, Incline led 1-0 after controlling possession and generating a number of chances — forward Rey Estrada opened the scoring in the 40th minute with a long shot that glanced off Lingruen and into the goal. Seven minutes into the second half, Estrada converted a penalty kick to put the Highlanders ahead by two.
Incline won the regular-season series between the rivals, and it appeared the Highlanders would roll to victory in the postseason rematch after Estrada’s second goal. But North Tahoe (9-7-2) had other plans, and roared back to begin a wild last half-hour.
The Lakers got on the board with a goal from forward Omar Cerda in the 54th minute, the first of three goals in a seven-minute span. Defender Angel Lopez tied the match three minutes later with a shot from the left side of the box, and Cerda’s shot off the underside of the crossbar in the 61st minute gave North Tahoe a stunning 3-2 lead.
“Our team is full of passion and plays with momentum — sometimes a couple little things happen that can throw a team off,” Incline head coach Mike Coudriet said.
Incline tied the match four minutes later, making it 3-3 on a hard shot from Vargas that flew into the top corner of the goal. But North Tahoe answered two minutes after that, and retook the lead when Cerda followed up his own rebound off the post and put it home to complete a hat trick 13 minutes after his first goal.
“I got upset right away, but our coach always tells up to keep our heads high and keep on working until the last minute,” Vargas said. “That’s what we did.”
The Lakers had taken a seemingly decisive 4-3 lead with Cerda’s 67th-minute goal, and stayed in front with a pair of stops from Lingruen — including a kick save in the 70th minute.
Incline continued to pressure, and its relentless attack led to the set piece opportunity that tied the match — the Highlanders didn’t settle for overtime, and struck quickly after the ensuing kickoff to earn a historic result in thrilling fashion.
“They really showed that they were champions — they never stopped,” Coudriet said. “Winning in this fashion proves to me that these guys can come back no matter what — the fact that it was so hard-fought made it an even sweeter victory.
“This was a unique game and worthy of a state championship.”
The Highlanders have now won three consecutive state titles with three different head coaches.
“This is what we set out in the beginning of the year to do. They all knew that this was the goal — they had won two state championships, wanted a third and they executed it,” Coudriet said. “It proves how good these guys are.”
Incline advanced to the state final with an 8-4 win over Yerington in the semifinal round Friday. North Tahoe defeated West Wendover 3-0 in their semifinal.