Canyon Del Oro has won its first 4A-1 boys state soccer championship.
Stalwarts Nick Marshall and Donny Toia each scored in the final 10 minutes Saturday, lifting the Dorados past Scottsdale Chapparal 2-1 in a style reminiscent of the down-to-the-wire style of play that was CDO’s playoff hallmark.
While the state championship game was a thriller in its own right, Sabino head coach John Pearlman knew the outcome was never really in doubt.
“The whole season, we thought the championship would have to come through (Tucson),” said Pearlman last Thursday, following CDO’s dramatic 4-3 semifinal victory over his Sabercats.
“I’d expect CDO to win,” he said simply.
The Dorados’ firmest test of grit may have come Thursday, when CDO pulled out a comeback for any age.
After a scoreless first period -- marked by great defensive play from CDO seniors Eric Anderson, Conner Muir, Ronald Tadoum and Travis Gardner and sophomore Caleb Christa – senior Nick Marshall scored two quick goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Sabino answered with two goals of its own in the final 20 minutes to force overtime.
“It wasn’t our best game,” said CDO head coach Josh Marshall. “I mean, to lose a 2-0 lead … I never expected that to happen.”
Even more unexpected -- with two minutes left in the second overtime period, a Sabino header put the Sabercats in the lead 3-2, eliciting an audible gasp and momentary silence from the large crowd of CDO supporters.
“I think they outplayed us for a lot of that second period,” said Marshall.
Marshall immediately pulled senior goalie Ryan Retz, giving the Dorados a numbers advantage on the offensive side, but also leaving the CDO goal unprotected.
As the seconds ticked away, the crowd and the players on the bench watched as CDO kept constant pressure on the Sabino goal, with every opportunity blocked by a staunch Sabercat defense.
With Marshall unable to get free and Toia blanketed by defenders, Sabino fans began a victory countdown with 10 seconds left.
They wouldn’t count long.
In the middle of a huge scrum, as legs flailed and the Sabino goalie dove to his left, senior Dorado captain Mike Valacich slid perpendicular to the goal, nudging the ball into the net, and tying the game for CDO at 3-3.
There were 3.6 seconds on the clock.
Stands and sideline exploded, and did so again when Retz blocked a key penalty kick and Nick Marshall booted home the final score of the shootout, a 5-3 CDO margin.
“It was just a great game,” said coach Marshall afterward, shaking his head and grinning.
“The kids figured out something to step it up, and get that goal.”
Marshall said he never lost faith, even in the waning moments.
“I was thinking, it can be done,” he said. “But I was also thinking ‘Man, this is so much stress out here!’”
“I’m just loving it now,” he added with a smile.