Dead last. That's where the Gunn boys' soccer team was barely a month ago. The SCVAL De Anza Division season was slipping away and there were no thoughts of making the postseason.
The Titans had come to a crossroads and had to choose a direction for the remainder of the season. That path is now clear.
Gunn is now a most dangerous team in the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs. The Titans proved that with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory at No. 5 Woodside on Wednesday to earn a berth in Saturday's quarterfinals, where No. 12 Gunn (10-9-3) will face host and No. 4 seed Alisal (15-1-5) at noon.
Also advancing this week were the Palo Alto boys and girls, plus the Woodside Priory girls.
The No. 8 Paly boys eliminated No. 9 Sequoia on Wednesday, 1-0, in Division II. The No. 7 Palo Alto girls bounced No. 10 Cupertino, 4-0, from Division II. And the No. 4 Priory girls routed No. 13 Latino College Prep, 14-0, in Division III.
None of those results are surprising. Gunn's win over Woodside, however, might have been -- given the do-or-die situation the Titans faced earlier this season.
"We knew that basically every game was a must-win game from that point on," Gunn senior David Light said of the Titans' 0-5-1 start in league (5-8-1 start overall). "I always remained optimistic. All of our losses were by one goal. We were 0-8 in one-goal games."
Gunn coach Frank Ruccolo made some lineup changes -- moving defenders Charles Linares and Boris Burkov -- to the midfield. The Titans got some injured players healthy and then, Light said, it was just a matter of playing better soccer.
Light pointed to a 7-0 win over Saratoga as the team's breakthrough game. Since then, Gunn has gone 5-1-1 with victories over league champ Los Gatos and runnerup Palo Alto.
"I knew our team; I knew we could come back," Light said. "The main thing was that we didn't want the season to end."
On Wednesday, Light played some of his best individual soccer as he was all over the place while causing big problems for the Wildcats.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first five minutes, the Titans came back midway in the first half when Light did a somersault throw-in from the left side to senior Calvin Parshad, who headed the pass into the net to tie the score.
The Wildcats answered with another goal in the 34th minute, but Gunn came back again 10 minutes in the second half when sophomore Sterling Hancock made a run down the left side in the 53rd minute and crossed a shot to senior Daniel Jauregui, who booted it in.
With roughly 15 minutes to go in the game, Light got behind the Woodside defense and scored the game-winner.
Woodside had few meaningful opportunities in the final minutes, but Gunn defenders Scott Baer, Michael Starr, Tim Sullivan, Ben Siemens and Hancock repelled the attacks.
The second half was all Gunn, which missed a couple of open-goal situations before Jauregui's tying goal.
"I tell our guys we're a second half team," said Ruccolo. "We play better from behind and we have the confidence that we can come back."
That confidence and the fact Ruccolo put Hancock on Woodside's leading scorer Oscar Yniguez, helped turn things around.
Gunn now makes a trip to Salinas on Saturday to face Alisal, a team that beat Gunn by 5-4 in the Homestead Christmas Cup. TheTitans trailed in that match, 5-2, before staging a comeback that just fell short.
"We just have to keep playing like it's our last game," Light said.
Boys Division II
Palo Alto (13-4-5) advanced with a 1-0 win over host Sequoia and now will play No. 1 South San Francisco (19-1) on Saturday at Burlingame High at noon. The Warriors, who played in the weaker PAL Ocean Division, advanced with a slim 2-1 win over No. 16 Westmont.
It took three players to produce the winning goal for Paly. Junior Adam Zernik got things started as he crossed a direct kick that was headed towards the goal by Kevin Ashworth and then deflected into the goal by Scott Ostrau in the 20th minute.
Paly withstood a hard attack by Sequoia in the first 15 minutes but the combination of ball control by midfielders Zernik and sophomore Jenner Fox plus superb defense by Ashworth, senior Bubba Paguirigan, sophomore Ryan Holland and junior John Christopherson kept Sequoia out of the goal.
Girls Division II
Palo Alto (14-5-2) beat Cupertino by 4-0 on Tuesday and will play defending champ Mitty on Saturday in a quarterfinal match at Los Altos High at noon.
"We know that when we play our best, we can play with anyone," said Paly coach Ernesto Cruz.
The Vikings played pretty well against Cupertino. Then again, the Pioneers are from the lower SCVAL El Camino Division and that puts things into perspective. This was a match Palo Alto was expected to win. Anything less would have been a big upset.
Aside from the final score, perhaps the most important factor in Tuesday's match was Paly's defensive effort on Cupertino scoring standout CiCi Kobinski.
Kobinski was one of two players from Northern California who made the USL SYL '91 Select Team last month in Florida. The other player is Paly's Sammi Bengston. Kobinski, however, was heavily marked the entire game and showed her frustration.
Palo Alto made it tougher by taking a 2-0 halftime lead on goals by junior Jessie Duller and sophomore Kelly Jenks. Both were significant. Duller had missed the two previous matches while resting an injured quadriceps muscle. She took a cross from sophomore Erika Hoglund and finished it off.
Jenks wound up scoring twice, once in each half with the first one assisted by junior Sydney Lundgren.
Palo Alto's final goal came after Bengston rocketed a shot on goal from 30 yards out and Cupertino keeper Erin Hammond fumbled the ball. Paly sophomore Kaitlyn Patterson was right there to finish the shot and the Pioneers.
Paly played without leading scorer Teresa Noyola, who is playing for the U.S. Under-20 National Team in the Four Nations Tournament in Chile. She's expected back on Sunday.
The Vikings also didn't have sophomore Alex Nguyen, who was injured during last Friday's 1-0 loss to Mountain View. She was getting an MRI on her knee Tuesday.
Reportedly joining Nguyen and Noyola on the Missing in Action list this Saturday will be junior co-captain Caitlin Watson. A valuable defender as a defensive midfielder, Watson supposedly will be gone visiting colleges this weekend. Thus, Palo Alto will be without both its captains (Noyola is the other).
Girls Division III
Woodside Priory (15-6) routed Latino Prep College, 14-0, at Skyline College to advance to Saturday's quarterfinals against No. 5 Santa Catalina at Watsonville High at noon.
Leslie Barkmann and Massiel Castellanos each scored three goals to pace the Panthers.
Third-seeded Menlo (10-7-4), which had a first-round bye, will play Mercy-Burlingame at Burlingame High in the quarterfinals at 10 a.m.