In soccer, a single goal can be the difference between winning and losing. The La Quinta High School girls know that all too well after Wednesday.
On the road in the postseason, the Blackhawks first had a goal erased in a tight game, then experienced how narrow the line is between defeat and victory in overtime.
And at the end of the night, even after having to hit the reset button on the scoreboard late in regulation, the difference of one goal was enough to extend La Quinta’s CIF title hopes for at least one more game.
The Blackhawks, the top seed in Division V of the CIF Southern Section, narrowly escaped their closest game of the season, eventually prevailing 1-0, in double overtime against Maranatha High.
“It was crazy,” sophomore forward Kailee Prescott said. “That was such a good game. I can’t even believe it.”
Into the 63rd minute, neither team had managed to generate any points. Then one play bumped the intensity of the hard-fought game up a notch.
La Quinta striker Brielle Leon charged after the ball toward the Maranatha goal, while goalie Tatum French came 20 yards out to retrieve it. As Leon approached at full speed, the two players collided, sending French to the field. With the goal unattended, Leon fired the ball to teammate Jessica Montano, who drilled the ball past two defenders to break the scoreless tie.
Though French was down, no whistle had been blown. La Quinta celebrated what, at that point, appeared to be the decisive play of the game.
Instead, as coaches and trainers attended to French, referees met together and discussed the previous play for eight minutes. After they convened, they ruled that no foul had been committed, yet waved off the goal and gave the ball back to the Blackhawks.
La Quinta head coach Bob Quattlebaum asked for an explanation.
“(The referee) said he should have blown his whistle, but there was no foul,” Quattlebaum said, still trying to understand the call after the game. “He didn’t call a foul on anybody, and their players didn’t stop, so the game shouldn’t have stopped. Unless he thought there was a head injury — if the referee ever thinks there’s a head injury, then the play should stopped right away.
“It’s tough to make that call in a playoff game, especially in a game that was going the way it was.”
After having to come down from an emotional high, La Quinta now had to generate another goal while defending its own. When neither team could find the back of the net, the game was extended to overtime for more fireworks.
In an eerily similar play as the one late in regulation, Leon again charged after the ball and again French came far out of the box to gather it. The two collided again at almost full speed. This time, though, after the play Maranatha midfielder Morgan Howe stepped between the two players and shoved Leon, who then retaliated.
“She pushed me first,” Leon recalled to her dad after the game. “I just stood there.”
Both players were issued red cards and ejected from the game. As a result, La Quinta will be without Leon, its leading scorer, Friday at home against St. Margaret’s in the CIF quarterfinals.
Without Leon, forward Aileen Galicia, who Quattlebaum said “played lights out,” took the game over. On the play that won the game for La Quinta, she drew three defenders with the ball at her feet, looked back to find senior midfielder Stephanie Esquivel in the middle of the field from 15 yards out.
Esquivel took one step in and let it fly. The ball sailed safely beyond French, who had seven saves on the night. The golden goal allowed La Quinta to advance.
Retelling the final moments of the game, Esquivel, a senior, couldn’t fight back the tears of joy.
“The entire time, I was telling myself, ‘This is not my last game, this is not my last game,’ ” Esquivel said. “I told myself I was going to score. And just like I had imagined in my head, it actually happened.”