Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
The North Medford boys soccer team gathered in a circle at Hoffbuhr Field, put their arms around each other's shoulders and spoke a prayer on Tuesday.
The Black Tornado had already witnessed the miraculous when Louis Michelon knocked in an improbable game-tying goal with 16.9 seconds left in regulation against Century in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.
After two scoreless 10-minute overtime sessions passed, North looked for a little more magic in a penalty kick shootout.
Unfortunately for the Black Tornado, there would be none.
Century's Carlos Hernandez-Morfin netted the match-clinching PK goal as the Jaguars edged North, 3-2, on the eighth shootout attempt.
The defeat was a rare but painful one for North, which finished the year 12-2-2.
"At moments they played brilliantly," North head coach Michael Belzberg said. "There were moments where they had everything clicking and moments where it was hit and miss at times. Overall it was a great season. The kids were great and they love each other. It's sports. With academics and keeping everyone on the same page it is tough. I'm proud of the boys."
Garrett Byrd and Danny Zamores had the Black Tornado's lone shootout makes, while Century (9-2-4) went 4-for-4: Gilberto Arreola Lopez, William Perez Rodriguez and Oscar Guzman also scored in the final test. North missed two shots.
"I was just having flashbacks to the whole season," Byrd said of the match's final moments. "I was thinking of everything me and the guys have been through."
Omar Alcazar Polvos had both goals in regulation for the Jaguars, who led 1-0 at halftime.
"When he's on up top, he's on," said Century head coach Steve Corey, whose team will next play in the quarterfinals.
Byrd evened the score in the 45th minute for the Black Tornado, which had to play short one player in overtime after Michelon drew his second yellow card following his equalizer.
Moments after he launched it in, the senior midfielder tore off his jersey and his teammates mobbed him. The celebration drew the penalty, which forced the home team to play with 10.
"It's hard because you have to cover that much more ground," Byrd said. "You have to dig deep. We felt like our backs were against the wall a lot of the time."
Century went ahead 1-0 on Alcazar Polvos' goal in the 20th minute.
Byrd tied things up with a bending shot on a fast break.
Alcazar Polvos corralled the ball after a corner kick with 35:31 left in the match and smoothly tapped in the rebound, giving the Jaguars a 2-1 advantage.
Enter Michelon, who extended North's season after capitalizing on a throw-in from about eight yards away with just seconds to spare.
In the shootout session, Byrd kicked things off with his goal. Century made its next three goals and North knocked in just one out of three.
"We have been practicing PKs for two weeks so it felt like it was just like in practice," said Zamores, the other Black Tornado player to convert. "I was calm."
Then came Hernandez-Morfin, who stepped up and fired. North Medford goalkeeper Eric Benitez got his hands on the ball, but it popped up and dropped into the net.
"You see that in professional soccer and in movies where it works out perfect in the end, and we come up just short in PKs," Byrd lamented.
Benitez made several tough saves in a full-match effort, including a diving stop with seconds left in the first half. He sacrificed his body again with 1:35 to go in the first OT session.
"He should hold his head up high because he's one of the best keepers I've seen," Belzberg said.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at www.facebook.com/danjonesmt and twitter.com/dljcards