Palo Alto coach Don Briggs turned a bit philosophical as he looked ahead to his team's appearance Friday in the Central Coast Section Division II boys' soccer championship match.
"When you go through life, you never know if you're going to get a second chance," Briggs said. "It's rare when you do get a second chance."
That, and a possible CCS title, awaits Palo Alto in the section finals.
"These seniors get a second opportunity to make up for last season," Briggs said of the Vikings' 3-1 loss to Gonzales in the 2007 Division II finals. "That wasn't one of our better efforts."
Palo Alto players walked off the field at Milpitas High a year ago disappointed. They knew they had a better effort to give. Now, they have an opportunity to give the effort they lacked a year ago when the No. 8-seeded Vikings (14-5-6) take on No. 2 seed Pajaro Valley (21-2-2) at Milpitas at 4:30 p.m.
One of the four current Paly seniors who experienced last season's title-game loss is Matt Nguyen. He gave himself, and his teammates, another title shot by scoring the winning goal in the first of two mandatory overtimes to lift Paly to a 2-1 semifinal victory over No. 5 St. Francis on Wednesday at Milpitas.
Friday's showdown with Pajaro Valley is the Vikings' second straight appearance in the CCS finals and sixth overall. Paly won championships in 1998 and 2000.
Nguyen scored in the 85th minute after junior Adam Zernik launched a corner kick that found junior Kevin Ashworth on the far post. Ashworth alertly centered the ball to Nguyen, who finished from point-blank range.
"The seniors on this team just didn't want to lose," said Nguyen, whose penalty kick last Saturday lifted Paly to a 3-0 shootout victory over top-seeded South San Francisco after the teams were deadlocked at 2-2 following regulation. "I definitely did not want to lose this game . . . I was just in the right place at the right time."
So, too, was Paly sophomore Jenner Fox in the first half. He worked a give-and-go with junior Michael Hanabusa that split the St. Francis defense. Fox took a return pass from Hanabusa and knocked a low shot past a charging SF keeper Lucas Bunzel for a 1-0 lead.
St. Francis tied the match just nine minutes into the second half and kept up its aggressive play while dominating after intermission. Still, Paly was able to defend with junior keeper Peter Johnson making three saves in the second half. Other defensive standouts included freshman Riley Smith, sophomore Ryan Holland, junior John Christopherson and Ashworth.
Before taking the field for the first overtime period, Briggs reminded his players of last season's semifinals against St. Francis that Paly won on penalty kicks.
"We talked about it," Briggs said. "We didn't want to put our faith into penalty kicks again."
The Vikings didn't have to. Four minutes later, Nguyen had his game-winning goal and the Paly players were running down the field celebrating. They had their second opportunity. Now, they have to take advantage of it.