Seeded ninth in the NCS Div. II boys soccer tourney, Bishop O’Dowd shocked everyone — including itself.
By Erik Stordahl | SportStars
The ref blew the final whistle of the match signaling the end of the season for both teams. The sun began to set behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the wind started to die down when the Bishop O’Dowd boys soccer team stormed the field in jubilation. The Dragons won their second NCS Div. II title in school history when they defeated Albany 3-2 on Feb. 25.
The victory came as a shocker since no one projected Bishop O’Dowd, the No. 9 seed in the field, to make it this far.
But no one was as stunned as the Dragons, themselves.
“I was not expecting at the beginning of the year that we would end up being NCS champs,” junior midfielder Tommy Powell said. “When I started off, looking at the team we had, I thought we would make it to NCS, possibly make it to the quarterfinals. I was not expecting to make it to the finals and not even win.”
The coaches sugarcoated nothing, matching the bluntness of their players.
“We didn’t even give ’em a chance as a coaching staff,” Bishop O’Dowd head coach Greg Rubendall. “We told the parents at the parent meeting we’d be happy to make NCS this year because we have a really young team. We only lose two senior starters for next year.”
So what sparked the Dragons’ title run? Rubendall pointed to the day the bracket was unveiled.
“When we saw our draw, we thought the draw was pretty favorable for us in general,” Rubendall said. “We felt we had the deepest team of any team … and teams win championships, players win MVP medals.”
Rubendall went to his bench frequently in the title game of a tournament that featured many upsets. No. 1 seed Acalanes fell in the opening round to St. Mary’s-Berkeley. Perhaps the favorite of the bracket, Ygnacio Valley, fell to the Cougars in the quarterfinals.
“I put us in as a No. 1 seed and obviously we’re not this year, we’re a No. 2 seed,” Albany head coach Ko Douglas said. “But we were placed at 7, and I didn’t care where we were placed.
“I knew that we were gonna compete against any team in this tournament, so I have no doubts in our team. I know that when we come out to play, and are focused, that we are the best team out there. We lost a little bit of that today.”
This was the first time in school history the Cougars made it to the championship. It’s that kind of experience that can plant the seed for a potential dynasty.
And while it was indeed a team effort for Bishop O’Dowd, two players emerged as heroes amongst Rubendall’s squad in the championship game, the Powell brothers. Tommy scored the first two goals for the Dragons, the first coming in just the fifth minute of the match. Matthew scored the game winner in the 53rd minute.
That’s not to say it was a cakewalk for the eventual champs. In fact, Albany took the lead at halftime on a goal scored by Romario Pena in the closing seconds.
Goals like that one can crush a team’s mentality and damage its psyche for the remainder of the game. But Bishop O’Dowd remained calm at intermission.
“(Albany) just made the biggest mistake of the game by scoring at the last second of the first half and going into the locker room thinking they could win,” Rubendall said. “It was going to be difficult for them to maintain that type of intensity all game.”
Rubendall’s analysis was spot on.
Bishop O’Dowd played the aggressor in the second half and it didn’t take them long to tie the game. Tommy Powell roped a free kick which was partially deflected but not enough by Albany’s goalkeeper Ryo Huntamer in the 47th minute and Matthew’s game winner followed shortly thereafter.
“Once I was fouled, I knew it was mine and I wanted to take it,” said Tommy of the equalizer. “Gabe (D’Ambrosio) and I, we share the free kick duties so anything on the left side is usually mine.”
While Tommy’s game-tying goal was marked with precision, Matthew’s game winner had a more whimsical nature to it.
“I don’t remember what exactly happened, I just remember the ball coming over,” Matthew, a freshman midfielder, said. “A missed bounce or a missed header, I don’t remember what it was. But I chested it and I put it in with my left foot. I think it took a bounce. But I was kind of surprised at first that it came to me, but luckily I was cool and kept my composure and tapped it in.”
Rubendall wasn’t surprised.
“He has that knack,” the coach said. “I think he scored the very first goal of the season for us, so it’s fitting he scored the very last goal of the season. Matthew’s just one of those guys in that situation you just hope he gets the shot off because you know it’s probably gonna go in. So when it fell to him you knew it was going in.”
After the goal, all Bishop O’Dowd had to do was keep Albany’s offensive attack at bay for 27 more minutes.
Easier said than done. Andre Alvarez and Gabriel Borges, the catalysts who fueled Albany to the title match, gave a valiant last-gasp effort.
Alvarez, a firecracker on the field, ended Bishop O’Dowd’s season last year when he netted the only goal in an NCS quarterfinal match. He approached Rubendall after Saturday’s final and Rubendall had a story to tell.
“I ran into (Andre) at the airport,” Rubendall said. “And he was like, ‘Hey, remember me? … I’m the guy who scored the game-winning goal on you in NCS this year.’ … So now, Andre, remember me?”
Both parties laughed over the exchange with the Dragons coach congratulating Alvarez on a superb season.
“Between Andre and Gabriel, I mean, they have a dynamite duo with a really long future ahead of them,” Rubendall said. “To not give them the satisfaction, they’re gonna win tons of championships in other places and this is just one pitstop on their careers.”
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