Hilmar High's boys soccer head coach Louie Bettencourt has always preached, "If you work hard then you will be rewarded." In Saturday's Division VI championship game, the Yellowjackets were greatly rewarded with the program's fourth Sac-Joaquin Section banner after defeating Gustine in penalty kicks at Stagg High.
It was unlike any game the 'Jackets had been in all season long—trailing after getting shocked in the opening minutes when Gustine took the early lead — then Hilmar settled in tying the game and fending off the attacks behind a superb defensive effort to head into PKs, eventually winning, 3-1.
“This feels great, just outstanding, because hard work actually pays off,” said Hilmar's Joshua Martinez, who scored the third penalty goal to win it. “We kept fighting, we kept going and that is what you are supposed to do, never give up. We held them off to penalties and at the end just closed it down.”
“It’s an indescribable feeling... I love it,” said Hilmar's Michael Cardoso, who scored the 'Jackets goal in regulation. “It's a dream come true, we've been working hard for this and we accomplished it so we will enjoy it.”
However, it wasn't always so 'perfect' for the 2015 Yellowjackets who had to legitimately work and progressively improve as the days carried on.
“In the beginning we butted heads a lot, but we got past that and then we became a family and that’s really a lot of what it took to win games,” said Cardoso.
The Yellowjackets only lost one contest from Sept. 2 till the title game, with a combined record of 15-1-1 during that span and an overall season record of 17-4-2.
“I knew we had a special group of kids and they really worked hard and although we did not have our best game at the end, we did what we had to do in order to get the job done and we did,” said Bettencourt.
None of it would have been possible without the assistance of first year goalkeeper Francisco Lepe, who was lights out during the year, especially in the postseason after allowing only one goal in three games—two if you include the lone penalty goal from Gustine.
“This feels good,” said Lepe, who finished the title game with eight saves. “I trusted my buddies and teammates, they play really good ball and what has helped is working hard at practice, and really dedicating myself to this.”
Gustine stunned Hilmar, with Jesus Quezada's goal in the third minute of play after Lepe's mitts tipped the ball.
A combination of a bigger stage along with the earliest start to any Section title game [10 a.m.] caused Hilmar to stutter.
After establishing themselves, Hilmar began to do what they had been doing all year, pressuring, when finally in the 29th minute, Brian Millan nudged a through pass to Cardoso who tucked his shot inside the far post as he fell over to the ground, celebrating on his back with fists high in the sky.
“I just had to keep my head up and never give up on a ball... I had to give it all I had,” said Cardoso. “I took risks just like that ball where I messed up but I had to take risks because if I didn't then I would not have gotten the opportunity to score like I did.”
The stalemate would last another 71 minutes — 51 minutes of regulation along with two 10-minutes of overtime.
Jamie Munoz and Miguel Avila, who had been superstars on the back line, were once again crucial in containing the Gustine attack for the majority of the game, even after each were limping in the final seven minutes of the second overtime.
Yepez and Cardoso each nailed a goal for Hilmar in penalties, before Lepe made a critical save after making a diving stop to Adrian Hernandez's low corner shot to secure the 2-0 lead at the time.
Hilmar missed their fourth attempt, which was followed by Gustine's only make then the stage was set for Martinez to seal the deal—and he did—placing the ball perfectly up high in the middle.
“I was nervous because of all the people and fans but I kept the shot in place, I didn't try to kill it or anything I just wanted to make sure it was going in,” said Martinez.
“If you are going to win it... I guess that is the way to win it,” Bettencourt added. “We got it... barely, but we got it in the last second, literally. They all worked so hard, they deserve it.”