It took 50 undefeated games, plus 75 minutes, but Esperanza High School finally won a Southern Section 3-A boys' soccer championship Saturday, defeating Burbank, 1-0, at Gahr High School.
The Aztecs, who have not lost a game in two seasons, pressured the Burbank defense throughout the second half, and finally earned an indirect kick on a Bulldog foul.
Karl Bowers made the initial kick toward the goal from about 25 yards out. The ball was batted about by numerous players before Bryan Aubg managed to kick it on goal.
Burbank goalie Sal Velasco was able to bump the ball back, but Esperanza's Steve Santos punched the ball over Velasco's head and into the goal.
"I didn't know if it was going to make it in," Santos said. "It stayed in the air a long time."
The Aztecs, No. 1 3-A seed, had played tentatively through the first half.
"I think we were nervous," Santos said. "But coach kept saying things to get us motivated, like, 'You look tired, do you want a chair?' "
The coach is John Coppage, who took over three seasons ago at Esperanza. In that time, the Aztecs have never lost an Empire League game. The team's 51 straight wins are a pending Southern Section record.
The Aztecs already have set a record with 22 shutouts this season. This was their fifth consecutive shutout in the playoffs.
Coppage credited defenseman Luis Cabral with Esperanza's success Saturday.
"I thought he just played exceptional," he said. "He played the game of his life out there today."
Also tough defensively was Esperanza goalkeeper Bill Culp, who made several spectacular saves down the stretch.
"We've won with defense all year," Coppage said. "Tonight was no different."
Coppage had said the playoffs were nothing more than a tournament, and that winning a Southern Section title depended a lot on luck.
"A lot of these games are decided on penalty kicks, and that's nothing but luck," Coppage said in an earlier interview. "It's like playing a basketball game, and then when the game gets tied, you go shoot free throws to see who wins. It's not always the best team."
Esperanza was top-ranked last season when it lost in the second round to Troy . . . on penalty kicks. (Games decided by penalty kicks are recorded as ties.)
But after the win and the championship, Coppage gave the title more credit.
"I think this is a legitimate championship because it was between the No. 1 and 2 seeded teams. They were the best team we've played this year. It feels great to beat a worthy opponent."