By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers are moving on in the North Coast Section boys soccer playoffs after barely getting the better of Big 5 rival Eureka in a thrilling showdown at McKinleyville High School on Wednesday night.
In a hard-fought and physical game played between two teams that know each other well, it took two overtime periods and a penalty shootout to decide a winner after Eureka twice battled back to square things up and leave the teams tied at 3-3 at the end of the game.
Emerging goalie Everett Namen then stepped up big-time in the shootout, saving the opening two Eureka penalty kicks to lead his team to a 4-2 victory.
“To me it was one of those North Coast classics,” Arcata head coach John Davidson said. “In the rain, PKs, playoffs, Eureka and Arcata. It’s the sort of game dreams are made of. It was fun.”
And it was fun from the start, with Eureka almost sneaking ahead in the opening minutes and setting the tone, as both teams came to play and created ample opportunities at both ends of the field.
The Tigers settled in quickly and led 2-0 just 15 minutes in on goals by Aiden Shelton and Josiah Gomez, both from cornerkicks.
The Loggers, to their credit, battled back, with goals either side of halftime to tie the game at 2-2.
Will Mooney struck first just before halftime, netting with a well-placed shot across the goalmouth before Vic Vang scored on a long-range looping shot early in the second half.
The Tigers retook the lead midway through the half on an Ethan Gyenis penalty kick, but the Loggers would battle back a second time to force overtime when Ean Savage headed home on a Noah Wagar cornerkick with just five minutes remaining.
“I was really proud of my boys,” Eureka head coach Eddie Garcia said. “Going down 2-0, it’s hard to come back from that, and they fought back.
“The penalty kick, we thought it was questionable, but even then they never gave up and they kept fighting.”
Both goalies — Namen and Eureka’s Aidan Sloper — played well in very wet and slippery conditions and each did a good job under fire, with the two teams creating plenty of opportunities.
Namen only recently has become his team’s first choice between the posts and is one of three goalkeepers the Tigers have platooned this season.
But he’s quickly making the position his own.
“He’s become the main man for us and it’s just really fun to watch him develop,” Davidson said. “He’s got a great attitude, he’s a good communicator and he reads the game well.”
Veteran assistant coach Tuck Engelmen has worked closely with Namen this season and has been instrumental in his quick development.
“I want to give a shoutout to Tuck because of the work he has done with Everett,” Davidson said. “Tuck has been a huge part of our success.”
Eureka defender Ty Bauer also had a big game in the heart of defense and made a pivotal goal-line clearance midway through the second half on one of the few occasions his goalie was beaten.
The loss marks the end of the road for this year’s Loggers, who grew stronger as the season progressed, but they will return most of their players next season.
“We have a young team,” said Garcia, who had three freshmen out on the field at one stage. “We have 20 players and 12 of them are sophomores or younger, so Eureka High is in good hands.”
The Loggers will say goodbye to five seniors — Vang, Bauer, David Parra, Luis Romero and Chiashi Her.
“The seniors, they set a great example for the younger generation,” the head coach said.
Arcata will now move on to play No. 2 seed Making Waves in a quarterfinal showdown at Salesian High on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought it was a very entertaining game for both sides, and good luck to Arcata,” Garcia said. “Hopefully they’ll do well.”