A season that started with tragedy ended in jubilation on Saturday as Newport / Waldport, a self-styled “Team of Destiny” edged Cottage Grove, 2-1 in overtime, to win the 4A boys soccer state title at the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union Soccer State Championships at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
Newport coach Ollie Richardson said that he believed his team, which was 7-5-5 last year, would win its first state title since winning back-to-back in 2016 and 2017, from the first day of practice Aug. 14, when a spirited rising sophomore, Yael “Santi” Felix-Trejo, collapsed and died on the field, reportedly from an undiagnosed medical condition.
“We won it for him and his family,” sophomore defender Diego Romero said.
“I feel like this was destiny to play at Liberty because it’s Santi’s season,” said Cub coach Ollie Richardson. “The thing I love the most is every time they think of the championship in 2023 they’re always going to remember his spirit.”
Now, while the memory of a departed soul supplies the emption to excel, talent, execution, hard work and perhaps a little luck are addition ingredients necessary to craft a championship run. Newport showed off its entire skillset on Saturday to overcome a gritty, dangerous Cottage Grove team.
“We’ve been playing hard throughout the playoffs,” said Cottage Grove coach Jaime Urenda. “We’ve been down a goal in every game throughout the playoffs and came back. Same thing we did here. Unfortunately, we were just a little short today. The guys played with resilience and never gave up. I’m super proud of how they fought today.”
“We all played our hearts out for the past 100 minutes,” said senior defender Eli Williams. “We just didn’t come out on top. We had good opportunities but we just didn’t get the ball into the net.”
“I tip my hat to Cottage Grove,” Richardson said. “They played hard and were physical and deserved to be here.”
Each team scored its lone goal of regulation in the first 20 minutes of the opening half.
Fifteen minutes in, Newport’s Anthony Gonzalez, the team’s leading scorer and playmaker; settled a ball and passed to senior forward Sebastian Guzman, who took two dribbles and scored top drawer with a left foot.
Cottage Grove (14-3-1), which knocked off 2022 champion Ontario in the first round; answered almost immediately. A free kick from midfield made its way to Christian Gonzalez. He attempted a shot but didn’t strike the ball cleanly and it found Rogelio Soto-Cruz for the one-timer past surprised keeper Noah Martinson.
With the scored now knotted at 1-1, both teams went hunting for the go-ahead goal. Cottage Grove, a tall team, looked dangerous on nuked throw ins from Williams and powerful free kicks from Carter Bengston, which were intended to, and did, wreak havoc in front of the Newport net.
More than once, it appeared that all that chaos would produce a Lion goal. In the 46th minute, Hayes Valley had a good look, but the tall midfielder headed the ball just over the bar. A few moments later, Williams’ long throw in found Tristyn Burnes’ toe, but his shot also was high.
Newport’s back line, featuring Romero, Brock Spink and Merak Krutzikowsky, along with outstanding keeper Martinson, a multi-sport athlete; collaborated to thwart Cottage Grove time and again.
“I’m super proud of my defense for stepping up,” Richardson said.
Newport (15-1-2) also found that go-ahead goal to be elusive. Twenty-four minutes into the first half, Cottage Grove keeper Jace Meyer punched out Ivan Hernandez’ in-swinging corner. The ball came to Gonzalez, whose bicycle kick would have produced a spectacular goal but didn’t have enough steam and was corralled by Meyer.
Meyer made several more saves and got help from the post in the 50th minute to deny the Cubs. Meyer’s best save probably came with less than five minutes left in regulation. Oliver Peralta’s free kick from 33 yards hit the ball and deflected towards the goal. Meyer was alert, leapt and poked the ball over the bar for an uneventful corner.
Cottage Grove, playing shorthanded because of an altercation in the semifinal win over The Dalles that resulted in an ejection, also had a chance to win it late in regulation time. With 90 ticks remaining, Williams created a dangerous situation with a massive throw in. Emmanuel Rea got good pace on the ball, but his left-footed shot skimmed just wide of the goal.
The go-ahead goal came courtesy of Newport midfielder Ivan Hernandez two minutes into overtime. The senior recounted what happened:
“I received the ball into the box. I take a touch. I see that I have space and just rip one at the goalie and it knuckles and goes in. I’ve been thinking about this since the last time Newport won state. It felt like the best moment in my life scoring that goal.”
“Ivan hit a great shot got it past the keep,” Richardson said. “We had a lot of chances to finish. We made it happen when we needed to. We had the same thing happen last Tuesday against North Marion [a 3-1 overtime win in the semifinals]. We scored 2-3 minutes in and believed.”
Cottage Grove still had 18 minutes to get the equalizer and almost got it immediately. During a scrum in front of the Newport goal, a Cottage Grove player sent a shot past the keeper. It was ticketed for the center of the goal, but instead found Romero standing there. The sophomore cleared the ball off the line.
“Nothing goes over the line,” Romero said. “That’s my job. It’s crazy. We could have been tied.”
“It was a scary moment,” Hernandez admitted. “I thought they were going to capitalize and we were going to have to go to penalties. But I had so much confidence in the defense. They did the job and cleared the ball. They did amazing work.”
Time can stand still when a team is protecting a lead. Newport’s players admitted that the last 18 minutes of overtime seemed to crawl by. The Cubs almost tacked on another goal in the waning seconds of the first overtime, but Meyer stymied the threat with a nice save.
Cottage Grove was not able to threaten in the second overtime, as Newport’s defense played big in front of Martinson and cleared trouble away when needed.
“It did seem like it took forever but I never felt threatened,” Richardson said. “Coming into this game I’ve never felt more confident with a team that had everything it took to win the title. I can’t tell you how proud I am of everything we had to deal with throughout the whole season from the first day of practice dealing with a tragedy. The way these boys have responded and peaked at the right time to bring the title back to Newport is amazing. The word I put on it is “destiny.” This season our destiny was to play at Liberty and win the title.”