By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers blew the race for the H-DNL wide open with a stunning 2-1 win at Eureka in girls soccer on Saturday, ending one of the most impressive runs in league history in the process.
Two quick goals midway through the first half proved to be the difference in an entertaining and passionate clash, played out in front of a loud and enthusiastic Albee Stadium.
The loss for Eureka ends a run of 32 straight wins in league play, a winning streak that dates back over two years to early September 2017.
And it took a brilliant last second save from Arcata goalie Skaidra Pulley to secure the win in a second half that controversially lasted a couple of minutes over the 40, with the Arcata faithful nervously waiting for the final whistle.
From the opening kickoff, it appeared as if the Tigers wanted this one more, and there would be no denying them.
“We played with hunger from the beginning whistle to the end whistle,” Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said. “They stepped up to every ball, they supported each other, it was an awesome, awesome effort.”
More importantly, it blows the race for the league championship wide open.
The Loggers, who got the better of Arcata two weeks ago, dropped to 5-1, one win behind Fortuna (6-0), whom they have to play twice in the second half of the schedule.
Arcata is now one win further back with a record of 5-2, having also lost to Fortuna.
It sets up an intriguing stretch run in the H-DNL with little separating the top three contenders and all of them will fancy their chances.
“Arcata came out tonight and they wanted it more then we did,” Eureka head coach Tommy Learmouth said. “They showed that. They absorbed our pressure for the first 20 minutes, and we made one mistake and our heads fell.”
The breakthrough goal came midway through the opening period when influential forward Michaela Macdonald was quickest to react to a loose ball in the six-yard box, and slotted home.
A few minutes later freshman Thea Trout got a well-deserved second goal, winning possession at the edge of the Eureka penalty area and finishing with a well-placed shot past keeper Kyra Watkins.
The effort epitomized Trout’s day, and Arcata’s day.
The freshman striker was outstanding, particularly in the first half, causing the Eureka defense problems every time she touched the ball and winning possession in attack on numerous occasions.
She was far from the only star on a night Arcata soccer will remember for a while.
Macdonald worked tirelessly up front and also caused the Loggers defense continual problems playing in a more forward role than usual, while fellow senior Bailey Cherms moved back into midfield and made her presence felt with another tenacious performance.
At the back, Zoe Leonard and Sophia Salinas gave a potent Eureka attack few clearcut chances, soaking up everything that came their way with a calm composure.
It was certainly a physical game, with neither side backing down from the challenge.
After the two goals, the Loggers settled back into the game and patiently tried to build from the back, with the defense, as always, providing the platform.
“Our defense played well, and our goalie played lights out,” Learmouth said of Watkins. “Offensively, we were a little disjointed.”
For a team not used to trailing, the Eureka players battled to the end and almost pulled off a miracle finish.
With two minutes to go, Adriana Newland netted to pull the Loggers within one, and they came within inches of tying things up right before the final whistle.
Aquene Tollefson set up the play on a beautiful 25-yard pass to find teammate Klayre Barres, who ran on to the ball, then cut inside a defender and shot back across the goal, only for Pulley to pull off the game-winning save.
“That was top shelf,” Stranahan said of the stop.
And it was a fitting end to a very entertaining game between two local soccer heavyweights.
“Eureka fought hard. That was a classic battle,” Stranahan said. “Both teams came out and poured their souls into the game.”
At the back, Jocelyn Bliven continued to impress for Arcata in her first season playing varsity soccer, giving the Tigers a physical presence and a sure foot, while teammate Tildy Macdonald was just as effective at the other fullback slot.
In midfield, Zakiya Elloway was as influential as always alongside the impressive Cherms, Annie Macdonald and Linda Carlson, as the Tigers battled for every ball and won many they shouldn’t have.