The tears fell down the faces of the Garces Memorial boys soccer pleayers almost instantaneously as the Rams felt defeat for the first time in more than two months.
In the CIF Southern California Division III championships at Sam Tobias Field on Saturday, No. 5 Corona-Santiago outlasted the 2nd-seeded Rams 8-7 in penalty kicks.
Santiago took a 2-0 lead in the first three minutes of the second half, but the Rams responded as Fletcher Bank scored to cut the lead five minutes later.
Then, with 15 minutes left in regulation, Alexander Halevy scored on a header off the assist from Moises Cisneros for the equalizer.
Neither team could score in the 15-minute sudden-death overtime, forcing penalty kicks with the score tied 2-2.
Both teams scored on each of the first seven attempts. But the Sharks were able to convert the eighth and the Rams were unsuccessful.
The heartbreak of losing the state finals became a stark reality for Garces (25-3).
“We fought until the end. I think we showed that today,” Garces sophomore goalkeeper Palmer Bank said. “We were just unlucky in PKs.”
After Halevy’s goal tied the game, Garces coach Hassan Halevy, Alexander’s father, said he felt the momentum began to go the Rams way long before that goal.
“It was actually when Fletcher put the goal in. You could feel the tempo change,” Coach Halevy said. “You felt them going backwards and defending a lot more heavily.”
Then when the final penalty kick didn’t go into the net for the Rams, time came to feel the pain of losing a playoff game for the first time in two years after the Rams won the CIF SoCal D-V title last season.
“Those boys give everything for this game, this school and each other,” Coach Halevy said. “It’s a tough way to go out. Credit to Santiago, they played a great game. We knew what we were getting into … They are a good team. It was a battle and someone has to win and someone has to lose. Unfortunately we were on the other end of that.”
And in retrospect, the coaching staff of Halevy and Robbie Gouk are aware of how special this season was, even moments after a devastating loss.
“Overall, it was a success,” Coach Halevy said. “We won league. We won (the Central Section D-IV title). Unfortunately we weren’t able to get it done here … At the last second they decided to throw us into Division III … So be it we had to play up two divisions this year and gave a run at it.”