By Jeremy McDonald
EUGENE, Ore.– When Jayden Esparza struck in the 94th minute of Stayton’s 1-0, Overtime thriller over the one-seed in Marist Catholic, he was swarmed by his Eagles teammates in a game where both teams came awfully close of breaking the 0-0 tie.
The Spartans Sam Bell had saved seven Stayton shots to help force overtime from the Marist-end while the backline and defensive backfield of the Eagles supported their goalie in Ivan Pelayo that did the same.
“It was really hard, (Marist) is a really good team. They like to pass and they’re really good, they’re fast like us,” said Pelayo. “It was really hard for us to do that. But we did it, we won.”
Each team’s defense had allowed six goals apiece respectfully and a combined 20 shutouts between the two of them. With how sound both squads are, someone had to score.
But doing that meant finding that one hiccup in the other’s defense to do so.
The Eagles controlled much of the first half, having five corner kicks in the final minute of the half. They couldn’t connect on either of them as they were aggressive out of the gate.
Marist matched their oppositions tempo, using their speed to pressure Stayton. The Eagles swarmed while Pelayo picked up three saves in the contest with his defense clogging up the shooting lanes around him.
For him, following the final six minutes after Esparza’s goal, they needed to step up big to back up their offense.
“Everyone was nervous. But my defense is really strong that they kept it down,” said Pelayo. “We wouldn’t be here without our defense, our middles and our forwards who finished the game off. It was a pretty good game.”
The excitement from Esparza’s overtime goal stemmed from a game in which they had their opportunities, like with those corner kicks, to do some serious damage sooner than they did. Something they need to improve on moving into the 4A State Final against Woodburn.
“It’s just crazy because we’ve had a lot of opportunities to finish. We could’ve ended this thing sooner, we missed a lot. We just got to look in when you finish,” said Esparza entering Saturday’s final. “We just got to be positive, communicate and not let them go through the middle. We just got to play the outside and finish the plays that we get.”
It’s weird to imagine that the Bulldogs and Stayton are playing each other for the third time this season. It’s a unicorn situation, but similar to Woodburn Head Coach Leroy Sanchez, Eagles Head Coach Chris Shields got to find another crease and groove in the Gameplan to surprise the other.
“I just don’t know. It’s one of those type of situations where you just got to go out and play, hope everything sorts itself out at the end of the day. I’m excited to play obviously against a team in the finals, I’m excited to be in the final of course,” said Shields. “Woodburn is Woodburn. They’re a different breed, they’re really good and we got to figure out a way to get around them on Saturday,”