The boys' soccer team at El Toro High, losers of seven of their first eight games, rallied to qualify for the Southern Section playoffs. But that turnaround paled in comparison to what the visiting Chargers accomplished Wednesday against 10th-ranked Santa Ana Valley.
El Toro scored in the 82nd minute of regulation on a fluke play to send the Division I wild-card game into overtime, then won it, 2-1, with two minutes left in sudden death overtime on another bizarre play. The upset sends the Chargers into Friday's first round against eighth-ranked Esperanza.
"These kids have been so resilient all year," El Toro Coach Ken Sjobom said. "They just hung there, so I knew we could come back in this one."
El Toro (10-10-2) wouldn't have had an opportunity to come back if the referees hadn't added three minutes of time to the second half, and the Chargers wouldn't have scored if Santa Ana Valley goalkeeper Enio Bravo had not run into two of his teammates while fighting for a loose ball 15 yards in front of the goal.
The collision jarred the ball from Bravo and left El Toro sophomore midfielder Sem Lopez alone with the ball 10 yards from the goal. Lopez calmly kicked the ball into the open net. A minute later, the whistle blew.
Neither Santa Ana Valley nor El Toro seriously threatened the goal through 38 minutes of overtime periods. But two minutes before the game was to go to penalty kicks, junior forward Julian Gaitan took a loose ball and dribbled past Bravo, who had come way out of net. With no Falcon defenders between him and the goal, Gaitan booted the ball into the middle of another open net.
"I one-touched it, I think, between his legs," Gaitan said. "Then I just took my time and put in through."
Gaitan, whose goal was his 15th of the season, said he never lost confidence in his team, which qualified for the playoffs by finishing third in the Sea View League.
"Not a lot of teams took us seriously," he said. "But we believed in ourselves."
The loss was devastating for Santa Ana Valley, which finished 17-4-1 and had won the Century League title. Rico Fernando gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead 15 minutes into the game. They outshot El Toro, 8-6, in the first half and 6-3 in the second, but were badly outplayed in the two overtime sessions.
Long after the game, several Santa Ana Valley players were sprawled on the field, trying to figure out what happened.
"It's better to lose it this way than on penalty kicks," Falcon Coach Adnan Bayati said.