By Matthew Snyder
Four overtimes and 110 minutes of game time were not enough to separate the Mission and Lowell boys soccer teams on Saturday at Boxer Stadium.
With the game still deadlocked at 1-1 after two 10-minute periods of overtime and two subsequent 5-minute, sudden-death overtimes, a league rule dictated that for the fifth time in Academic Athletic Association history there would be co-champions.
Mission (17-2-2) earned its first championship since 2008 and Lowell (11-1-4), the winner of the past two AAA titles, kept its name on the trophy for the third consecutive season.
Both teams expressed mixed emotions about the idea of a shared title.
“As a senior, [the co-championship] is not that great,” said Mission senior captain Marco Caballero. “But hey, it didn’t go either way, so I’m happy with what we got. I would’ve been happier if we had got the whole trophy – like the whole championship – but it just didn’t go in either way.”
Mission head coach Scott Kennedy liked the Bears’ chances if the game would have gone to penalty kicks, like almost every other section tournament in the state.
“[It’s just] really odd and weird feeling,” Kennedy said. “You don’t want it to end in a tie. I think it’s embarrassing. It’s got to go to [penalty kicks], and my god, I love our chances there. I know we have the best keeper in the City and Marcos [Lopez] would have gotten one or two [saves].”
The feelings were similar from the Lowell side.
“[The title] doesn’t feel as sweet as the last two, because we had to share it, but I’m proud of our team,” said Lowell senior captain Zach Weisenberger. “Of course we’re disappointed that we have to live with a tie, but it’s still a championship.”
Lowell head coach Marcos Estebez was glad the game didn’t end in penalty kicks.
“You know, it still feels good,” Estebez said. “I feel fantastic for the players. Obviously, you want to be the lone champion, but I would have to say that in a game like this, you know, you would feel pretty bad for the loser. Deciding a match on penalty kicks is nothing I ever like. I would always prefer that we play until somebody else scores a goal. I think at some point, you have to raise the flag. I think that probably, in terms of their safety, that it needs to be done.”
Weisenberger broke open a cagey first half when he powered home a header from fellow senior Peter Harrington’s corner kick to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the 30th minute.
“I had a man marking me, so I ran from the back post to the front post, lost my man and I just put it in the net,” Weisenberg said.
Just seconds after the goal, Weisenberg lost possession just above the Lowell penalty area. Mission fired a shot toward Lowell sophomore goalkeeper Abdul Monim, who parried the effort into the path of onrushing Mission forward Mario Mejia.
Monim rushed to snuff out the threat, but collided with Mejia and, after hitting his head, remained sprawled on the ground. Monim missed over two weeks early in the season after suffering a concussion, so Estebez took him out of the game as a precautionary measure.
Backup goalkeeper Aidan Powers-Riggs, another sophomore who had played sparingly this season, was immediately thrust into the game. He was called into action just seconds later and made a confident save of Mission senior Walter Sevillano’s long-range shot.
“Aiden played about 15 minutes against Washington [in the AAA semifinals on Thursday] and he’s a good keeper. He’s very good,” Estebez said. “He’s sound fundamentally, technically and his composure today — just imagine getting thrown into a game [like that]. There’s no preparation and I think maybe sometimes that’s an advantage for some players.”
Powers-Riggs emerged as one of the heroes of the game for Lowell, producing a slew of spectacular saves during the second half, when Mission piled on the pressure in its search for an equalizing goal.
“It was crazy,” Powers-Riggs said. “I was really nervous, but my teammates, right when I got on, they told me, ‘Just be confident. Just be cool. You got it.’ So that really helped. I really prepped myself for this [game].”
Monim was one of three regular starters Estebez lost to injury during the game. Juniors Antonio Torres and Aaron Moye — the Cardinals’ top forward and side midfielder, respectively — both left in the second half.
“We were scrambling, putting players out of position and people were learning on the fly,” Estebez said. “But overall . . . if you would have told me I didn’t have Tony, I didn’t have my starting goalkeeper and I didn’t have my best forward, how would we fare? I would say, ‘Oh, we’d be down 5-0, probably by halftime.’”
After a couple last-ditch sliding blocks denied Mission from scoring in the second half, Caballero pounced on a poor Lowell goal kick.
With just minutes remaining, Caballero found Mejia on the right side of Lowell’s goal. Mejia cut back to his left, pirouetted and finally fired a shot past a helpless Powers-Riggs to tie the game.
It was the second game in a row that the Bears scored in the game’s final minutes to force overtime.
There is an end-of-season meeting of AAA soccer coaches scheduled for Monday. Kennedy said he was eager to address the rule that allowed the tie and co-championship.
“I’m sure all the coaches will put an end to this now,” Kennedy said. “Nobody really paid mind to it, because it didn’t come up before now.”
The four other instances of co-champions in the AAA came in 1943, 1946, 1955 and 1964. Mission has been a part of all five co-championships.