FERNLEY — The Highlanders did not want to test their fate again in a sudden-death overtime period — particularly against the rival Lakers in the final game of the year.
They made sure to take care of business in regulation of Saturday’s Division III state championship.
After the North Shore foes played to a pair of spirited ties during the regular season — while the Highlanders edged the Lakers in overtime of the regional championship last week — Incline stormed back from an early hole to cement a 3-1 state championship victory in Fernley.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said first-year Incline head coach Ian Hauck. “I’m just really excited to see them succeed. For a team to come back from a deficit in the state championship shows a lot of character.”
The state title was the second straight for the Highlanders, who also needed an overtime period to get past Whittell, 3-2, in Friday’s semifinal round.
“It feels amazing,” Incline junior Sal Vargas said of the state championship victory. “We struggled in the first half a little bit, but we stepped it up in the second half. We just knew we had to. We started touching the ball more and were not selfish at all. That helped us get the three goals we needed.”
North Tahoe drew first blood just four minutes into the contest, as freshman Jesus Ortega found himself open in front of the goal for an easy score.
The slim lead remained through 32 minutes of physical, back-and-forth soccer.
Eight minutes before the half, however, Incline sophomore Rey Estrada put an end to the Highlanders’ scoring drought when he got past a defender and blasted a rocket shot into the back of the net.
“We were not winning 50-50 balls early on, and the boys didn’t seem like they wanted it as bad. North Tahoe seemed to want it more in the first 15 minutes or so,” Hauck said. “But once Rey scored the first goal, I think that lit a fire for the guys and got them motivated.”
Incline never relinquished its momentum after the half.
Seven minutes after the break, Alejandro Alcantara crossed a ball in to an open Danny Guerrero, who quickly settled it and kicked it past the diving reach of North Tahoe goalie Omar Vargas.
The real dagger came in the 69th minute.
Guerrero delivered a cross directly in front of the goal, and Marlon Correa buried it to give his team a 3-1 lead.
“We played better than we have the whole season. There was a lot of pressure against North Tahoe,” said Incline senior co-captain Victor Martinez, who nearly added to the lead late in the contest, but his shot attempt sailed just wide of its mark.
Despite the final outcome, Martinez conceded that he and the Highlanders were a little concerned after the rocky start.
“We were, because North Tahoe is a great team,” he said. “But we knew we had to take this.”
“Yeah it was scary,” he said of the Lakers’ early score, “but we found a way. It was all or nothing for us, so we just went full blast.”
“We played brilliant,” Estrada added. “The first five minutes were kind of sloppy, but we recovered from our mistakes and stepped it up to win state.”
Incline, which finished 13-0-3 against the DIII, should be tough to contend with again next year, as they lose only Martinez and fellow senior co-captain Oscar Gudino to graduation.
“I’m going to miss it,” Martinez said. “The team is like a family to us.”
The Lakers, who lose six seniors from this year’s team — Vargas, Wildon DesLauriers, Alex Tyler, Jose Chavez, Garret Driller and Adrian Ortega — finished the season 9-4-3 against the Division III.
Against Whittell in the semifinal round, Estrada and Correa scored a goal apiece in regulation, while freshman Victor Herrera put in the game-winner in overtime.