By C. Harold Pierce
With less than eight minutes left in overtime of the Southern California finals, Dons forwards Luis Venegas and Leonardo Contreras stretched on the sideline, waiting to be substituted back into the game.
“Stay loose,” Santa Ana College Head Coach Jose Vasquez told them.
The two players helped lead the Dons to a 2-1 victory over the Wolverines, earning them a place to compete in the California Community College Athletics Association State Playoffs for the first time since 2009. It is their first win against San Bernardino Valley College since 2011.
The duo played in tandem. Contreras, the Orange Empire Conference MVP, earns the majority of his assists by setting up Venegas, the state’s leading goal scorer.
As soon as they’re released, Venegas charges the goal box and shoots. The ball bounces off a Wolverine defender before Contreras sails it into the back corner of the net.
“We pulled them [Venegas and Contreras] out for a couple of minutes just to get a break and we knew that once we put them back in we had a chance,” Vasquez said. “It was back and forth for awhile, and we just caught a good goal by Leo [Contreras] at the end.”
Contreras played a large part in breaking the SBVC’s 2-year win streak, said Wolverines Head Coach Josh Brown.
The Dons’ MVP took six shots with two on goal, clinching the game with the winning-point during overtime.
“We had our opportunities just like they did, but they had that good one right at the end, and they capitalized on it. We didn’t capitalize on ours,” Brown said.
Venegas headed in the first goal of the game in the 13th minute off a free kick from Defender Antonio Solis.
“Toni [Solis] set me up with a good ball to the first post where the defense was lined up, and that’s where I headed it in,” Venegas said.
The Dons, known for coming in strong and fast to wear down the opponent, changed their strategy against the Wolverines. The team slowed things down.
“They’re that kind of team at home where they’re going to come out flying, going to come out hard. We did the complete opposite, and we took our chances with that, and I think that kind of got them frustrated,” Vasquez said.
The Wolverines came back charged after halftime and started shooting, booting 12 shots with four on goal. It was more than twice as many as they attempted in the first half.
The persistence paid off.
Midfielder Alfonso Cano scored the Wolverine’s only goal with an overhead kick in the 65th minute.
After the tie, the game turned into a slugfest with both teams battling for control of the ball.
Dons goalkeeper Luis Trujillo palmed four saves in the second half and seven total. In playoffs, he has allowed two goals.
A brawl that erupted after the game did not dampen the Dons victory.
“These guys are hungry, they’re a new bunch, they know what tradition is, and they know what we have behind us and … all the championships. They want a part of that,” Vasquez said.
The Dons will face Hartnell College for the state semi-finals in Sacramento at Consumnes River College Dec. 6.