By Jeremy Balan
KENTFIELD — After a disappointing week that featured its first two Bay Counties League West losses, University High School’s boys soccer team proved again on Monday that it can compete with the North Coast Section’s best.
Capitalizing on their only scoring opportunity of the second half, University’s Jesse Beller scored in the 65th minute to give the Red Devils a 2-1 victory over Branson School in Ross in non-league play at the College of Marin.
The goal came on a University counter attack, initiated by forward Mani Ghiasi.
Ghiasi sent a through pass into the Bulls’ penalty area, where University’s Jack Wilson and Branson goalkeeper Jordan Lazor collided as they met at the ball.
The ball squirted to the right wing, where University’s Henry Steyer sent a high crossing pass toward the face of the net that a Branson defender attempted to clear, but could not get a full foot on. The ball bounced out to Beller, who chipped the ball into the empty net.
The Red Devils (10-4-3) made the best of their lone opportunity, but the second half was dominated by Branson (10-2-3), which controlled possession and had countless scoring opportunities.
“We stole one. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” said University head coach Deejae Johnson. “It’s a strange feeling, walking away, beating one of the best teams, not really being able to explain how we did it.”
Beller’s goal was one of the few times the Red Devils were even able to venture into the attacking third, as the Bulls bombarded the University defense.
Branson sent just four shots on net in the second half — which were all saved by University goalkeeper John Schember — but had countless near-misses, including a header that caromed off the goalpost.
University’s Alex Fish also played his part to hold off the Bulls, when he negated a sure goal by heading away a Branson strike on the goal line in the 46th minute.
“In the second half, we played with some ambition and created a lot of opportunities,” said Branson head coach Tom Ryan. “We got caught on a counter attack. We know University is capable of that and they taught us a good lesson there. You can have all the possession and all the opportunities, like we had today, and still come out on the losing end. It’s a cruel part of this sport.”
The Bulls appeared to be on their way to a victory early, when senior Josh Gray volleyed a header into the net off another headed pass from senior defender Eli Morris in the eighth minute.
University evened the score just before the half, though, when a foul was called on the Bulls in their own penalty area, giving the Red Devils a penalty kick.
Midfielder Kirk Horton hit a solid strike into the bottom-left corner of the net to knot the game at 1-1 in the 38th minute.
While the game doesn’t factor into either teams’ league standings, the game could be crucial for seeding in the NCS Division II tournament, which begins in November.
“There aren’t many teams that are beating Branson and [Marin Academy],” Johnson said. “We know they’re going to be a big player in NCS, and if this helps us host a game instead of going someplace up north, we’ll take it.”