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The Claremont High School boys soccer team won its first-round Division Three CIF playoff game against Upland last Friday in a wild cliffhanger complete with drama, last- minute goals and controversial calls.
Claremont was certainly the favorite, coming off a nearly perfect season and playing at home. But they almost lost, pulling the 3-2 victory out of thin air in sudden death overtime.
It looked like it was going to be a long night for the Highlanders, as they had to fend off repeated threats from Claremont’s top scorers. After several good saves by Upland’s goalkeeper, Claremont senior Justin Munevar passed to midfielder Nick Loeffler on the right side, easily beating the keeper for the first goal of the game at 19:09 in the first half.
Several more opportunities for both teams led nowhere and the score remained 1-0 at the half. But the game got wild the second half.
At 43 minutes of play, the Pack was called for a pushing penalty directly in front of their own net, giving the Highlanders a free kick with only goalkeeper Kyle Del Campo to defend. Upland’s number 14 easily flicked it past Del Campo and the game was tied.
This was also the point when the momentum shifted from Claremont to Upland. The Highlanders were in control of the ball and kept the pressure on, clearly tasting an upset.
Then at 50:30 lightning struck again when, following a corner kick, the referee called a hand ball on Claremont right in front of the Pack’s net, giving the Highlanders yet another free shot. This time, however, Del Campo deflected it and the ball hit the post, bouncing back into play. Upland successfully scored on a second opportunity but it was called back because the same player who took the free kick also scored the goal.
The match looked like it was going into overtime when, at 68:38, Upland’s number 6 got what should have been the game-winning goal.
With only a handful of minutes left to keep their season alive, the Pack became desperate and began to play poorly. Coach Fred Bruce-Oliver repeatedly shouted to his team to pass the ball, but to no avail. Then as time was almost gone, a miracle kept them alive.
With only a few seconds left, Munevar got a golden opportunity. After attempting to head the ball over the defenders, he got it back and, as he put it later, “Let the ball do the rest.” Unbelievably for everyone on the field he succeeded, and the game went into overtime.
It was really Munevar’s night to shine when after only a couple of minutes in the first sudden-death overtime period, senior Steven Mancia got a nice pass over the defenders to Munevar, who controlled the ball with his right foot and then tapped it in with his left and it was game over.
Exiting the field, Del Campo asked, “What just happened?” which summed up most everyone’s thoughts.
“It’s all kind of a blur,” said Munevar from the team’s bench just after the game. “This was one of the most emotional games of my life.”
Munevar attended Upland as a sophomore and knows most of the players, making the game somewhat personal. “I went for it with all my strength,” he said. “I had to win over my former teammates.”
Bruce-Oliver was clearly annoyed by the penalties, particularly the two that were called directly in front of Claremont’s net. “Calling a penalty in a playoff game as important as this, it has to be legit,” he said.
He was also a bit disappointed with his team’s performance. “They got behind 2-1 and started thinking ‘we are going to lose’ rather than focusing on the game.”
“We will take the win but need to play better, that is for sure,” he said.
The Pack followed up with an equally exciting game on Wednesday in the second round of the CIF Tournament against Ontario High School at Colony High.
In similar fashion to the Upland match, the Pack tied the game in stoppage time. The game then went into two 10-minute overtime periods but remained tied 1-1, resulting in penalty kicks to determine a winner, according to CHS Principal Brett O’Connor.
CHS goalie Del Campo blocked two penalty kicks and Digby Strogen scored the final penalty kick, giving Claremont the victory. “The Pack fans were out in force for this road game,” said Mr. O’Connor.
The?Pack will play Pasadena High School at Claremont High School on Friday night at 5 p.m. in a quarterfinal match.