When the Palo Alto boys dropped a crucial soccer showdown at Homestead last week, the chances of the Vikings winning the SCVAL De Anza Division title pretty much disappeared.
Yet, there was a glimmer of hope as both teams headed into their final regular-season matches on Tuesday. First-place Homestead had 27 points and second-place Paly had 25.
"I told the kids right after the senior pregame celebration, 'If we win and Los Altos ties (Homestead), we would win the title on a tiebreaker,' said Paly coach Don Briggs. 'It's Senior Day at Los Altos and they just might get fired up and so the unlikely.' That got their attention.
"A tie seemed possible since Los Altos was playing at home on a narrower field (Homestead has the widest field in the SCVAL and actually meets regulations for college/professional sizes). Los Altos is a good team, much better than their record and the high-scoring Homestead team would play on a small field that might affect their wide-open play. So, there was hope for a tie."
Actually, Palo Alto got more than that. The Vikings pulled off a 2-1 win over visiting Los Gatos on its own Senior Day and Homestead fell to Los Altos by the same score. Thus, the Vikings (9-2-1, 13-3-3) grabbed the division championship by one point over the Mustangs (9-3).
This is Paly's first league title since 2009, when the Vikings went 11-0-1 and ended up tying for the CCS Division I title.
"Our game had such an exciting ending in the last few minutes and marked our first comeback from giving up a lead," Briggs said. "It was a great win for us and gets us 'right' for playoff season."
Palo Alto grabbed a 1-0 lead when senior Xavier Sherer put a low crossing ball to the six-yard box that junior Cole Tierney hammered past the Los Gatos keeper. The Wildcats evened the match in the second half. Paly tried desperately to go ahead, and finally did so when senior Wesley Woo sent a nice through ball to Tierney. He beat the center back and put a nice shot over the keeper for the winning goal. The match ended four minutes later.
"Our game ended and we were standing around enjoying the senior celebration treats and the players started asking me how to find out about the Homestead-Los Altos score," explained Briggs. "I did not have a contact so a couple of players called Homestead players, but no one picked up or answered the texts. Finally, Dami (Bolarinwa) called the Los Altos coach. We got the answer and Dami yelled that Los Altos beat Homestead. There was the biggest roar out of the players, friends and parents over at the Paly bench. It just perfectly capped off the Senior Day celebration."
Going out with a title were Paly seniors Steven Blatman, Preston Kuppe, Ed Chen, Woo and Sherer. Blatman, Kuppe and Woo are all four-year players.
"This has been a special mission for the entire team," Briggs said of winning the title. "We were so disappointed after last Thursday's game (loss at Homestead), yet they did a nice job of coming back today when it appeared to some that the standings were set and this was just another game."
While Palo Alto scored just 14 goals in 12 league matches, the Vikings allowed just five -- lowest in the division.
In the SCVAL El Camino Division, Gunn put the finishing touches its first championship season since 2005 with a 3-2 victory over visiting Cupertino. While the Titans (11-0-1, 14-4-2) had won the division title last week, this victory nonetheless was important for Central Coast Section seeding.
Gunn is headed to the postseason for the first time since 2009, when the Titans reached the semifinals before losing to eventual co-champion Bellarmine.
Seniors Alex Ruber, Sean MacPherson and Guy Kasznik provided the scoring and assists for Gunn on Senior Night. Ruber scored twice and MacPherson once, with MacPherson assisting for Ruber and Kasznik on MacPherson's goal.
The Titans scored a division-leading 37 goals and tied with second-place Fremont with just 10 goals allowed.
Palo Alto trailed first-place Mountain View by just one points heading into the final match of the SCVAL De Anza Division season on Tuesday. All the Vikings needed was a win over Los Gatos and a Mountain View loss to Saratoga.
The Vikings (9-2-1, 15-2-1) wound up with a 1-1 deadlock while the Spartans(10-1-1, 15-3-1) routed the Falcons, 6-0, to claim the division championship.
Palo Alto scored in the 26th minute when Nika Woodfill ran onto a cross from Jacey Pederson at the far post.
Despite taking 20 shots, Palo Alto was unable to find an insurance goal and Los Gatos took advantage. In the 80th minute, a pressing Los Gatos forced a corner and Wildcats forward McKenna Cutting blocked an attempted clearance by Paly and the ball ended up in the goal for the equalizer.
In the PAL Bay Division, host Menlo-Atherton celebrated its Senior Day with a 4-0 victory over Hillsdale. The Bears improved to 7-4-2 in league (10-5-3 overall) while the Knights fell to 4-7-2 in league.
After introducing its seven seniors before the match, M-A pulled away from a close game and finally took the lead in the 33rd minute when junior outside defender Jordan Olesen made a run down the right wing a floated a pass to freshman forward Josephine Cotto, who chipped in a shot for a 1-0 lead.
Junior Sarah McLeod scored unassisted in the 46th minute, sophomore Katie Guenin took a pass from Cotto and found the net in the 65th minute and senior Annie Harrier finished things off in the 73rd minute when she took a throw-in and fired in a shot.
Still clinging to hopes of earning a CCS berth, the Bears conclude the regular season on Thursday at first-place Woodside.