It’s been some 14 years since the Archie Williams High boys soccer program has made it to a league final. The Peregrine Falcons scored at the tail end of both halves in Thursday’s MCAL semifinal for a 2-0 win against Branson, making it back to the title game for the first time since 2010.
“Back in those days, it was the fall,” said Archie Williams coach Rene Ayala, who coached then-Drake in that title game. “We came close in 2018. We lost in a (penalty-kick) shootout to the eventual winner (Terra Linda) but we’re looking forward to the challenge. I know what we have in front of us. Redwood is a formidable opponent. We know that. We saw them last week. We had a chance to match wits with them so we’re hoping we can come up with a plan and make this thing competitive.”
Redwood defeated Tam 3-0 in the other semifinal, setting up a battle between the top two seeds for the title at 4 p.m. on Saturday at San Rafael High.
Archie Williams (8-5-4) was attacking downhill throughout the first half and was in danger of going into the break with nothing to show for it.
The breakthrough goal came in the 39th minute on a long throw-in taken by Max Crock. Chala Rosenthal made a run from the near post and soared high, heading the ball backwards into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“It felt amazing,” Rosenthal said. “Everyone was screaming. The fans were out there. It was so surreal but I think we really needed that. We were creating a lot of chances but we just couldn’t finish.”
Archie Williams leaned on its defense for the first 30 minutes of the second half as Branson (8-9-3) had a number of corners and set pieces. Jaden Sher served a few dangerous balls into the box but Archie Williams goalie Aidan Dunn was there to catch the ball out of the air both times.
Knowing his team was competing against both the Peregrine Falcons and the clock, Branson coach Tom Ryan pushed two of his defenders, Sher and Rodrigo Diaz, up the pitch in hopes of an equalizer.
The Peregrine Falcons were able to soak up the pressure and launch wave after wave of attacks in the final 10 minutes of the game. Branson goalie Niccolo Machotka-Farley had to make a crucial interception in the 70th minute on a cross by Crock toward a wide-open Jake Morrison inside the box.
Three minutes later, Archie Williams hit the post with another chance. The Peregrine Falcons launched another attack in the 78th minute with Rosenthal getting past Machotka-Farley on the right side of the field, then crossing the ball centrally to Cole Sullivan. Machotka-Farley recovered in time to make an impressive save to keep Branson in the game.
“It was huge,” Ryan said of the save. “That gave us a chance to stay in it or else that’s kind of the nail in the coffin.”
Sullivan was still replaying the missed chance in his head when an opportunity for redemption presented itself to him in stoppage time. Sullivan intercepted a goal kick and was instantly behind the back line. Sullivan played his way around Machotka-Farley but had no angle to shoot. Instead, Sullivan played a back pass to Morrison who finished in front of an open net to put the game to bed.
“In the back of my head, I wanted to make up for the shot I missed earlier,” Sullivan said. “I saw the keeper come out so I decided I was going to take it around him. Once I looked up, I knew I didn’t have an angle to goal so I kind of slid it across the box to Jake and he did a good job of finishing it.”
While Archie Williams moves on to the final, Branson will await its fate in the North Coast Section playoffs. The seeding meeting takes place on Sunday.
After taking seven points out of a possible nine in their final three league games, the Bulls made the MCAL playoffs for the first time since 2018.
“I would start with our senior class that’s been with me since post-COVID,” Ryan said of the keys to this season’s breakthrough performance. “That senior class, seven out of the eight of them have been with me for four years so they’ve been through a lot. I’d say that they’re seasoned. Their leadership really helped us be able to go to another level and they’re also integral players in terms of where they are on the field and the positions that they play.”
Around the county
Top-seeded Redwood continued its dominant run through the MCAL this season with a 3-0 win against Tam in the semifinals on Thursday.
The Giants (15-2) improved to 11-0 against MCAL opposition this season, including a trio of wins against the Red-tailed Hawks (9-5-4). Redwood scored twice during a short span in the first half, with goals by Thomas Griffin and Jake Middleton — assisted by Sam Gersch and Ike Gebherd, respectively.
Redwood held that 2-0 lead until about 10 minutes from time when Ben Sherry put the result beyond reach, following an assist from Evan White.