Cougars have it their way in 3-0 CIF championship game victory


Photos by Phillip Brents Steele Canyon High School goalkeeper Alex Shields makes a diving stab at the ball during this year’s San Diego Section Division III championship game.

The cheers kept coming long after the final whistle sounded. Steele Canyon High School’s boys soccer players simply wouldn’t stop celebrating.

They had good reason: They had just won the school’s first San Diego Section championship in the gender sport.

“Cougars!” excited teenage voices broke through the descending cold last Thursday, Feb. 24, at Patrick Henry High School as players took turns hoisting the championship trophy following the team’s 3-0 victory over the top-seeded Hilltop Lancers in the Division III championship game.

The school’s nickname was repeated several times, followed intermittently by “C-I-F! C-I-F!”

Together the two words spelled “champions.”

While Steele Canyon head coach Justin Johnson was obviously elated about this team’s history-making performance, he also wanted to acknowledge the fine season turned in by his championship opponent. Hilltop carried an 18-1-7 record into this year’s division final with 18 shutouts.

“First and foremost, we have to applaud Hilltop,” Johnson said. “They were the No. 1 seed. They had one loss all season. But things went our way in this game. It was a hard-fought game by our guys. They earned it. I’m so proud of them.”

The teams had met once before this season — a 3-0 Hilltop victory in the annual Grossmont Conference Holiday Cup on Dec. 18.

The Lancers won a high energy 2-1 overtime semifinal game against the neighborhood rival Chula Vista Spartans two days earlier, and Hilltop’s players appeared emotionally drained when taking the pitch against the third-seeded Cougars.

Steele Canyon was coming off a 2-0 upset win in the semifinals over second-seeded Santana. Motivation was strong as the Cougars had unfinished business to attend to after coming up short by a 1-0 score in last year’s Division IV championship game.

“We were excited to be here,” Johnson said. “It’s the first back-to-back appearance in the finals for us. A lot of things have to go right to get to the championship game.”

Now the Cougars are hoping for a championship repeat.

“It’s been a good season,” Johnson underscored. “The team really grew. We have 25 guys on the roster, and everyone has contributed. It’s been one of the most together teams I’ve coached.”

The boys of Steele finished 8-2 in Grossmont Valley League play behind Santana (10-0 in league). The Cougars had lost both league encounters to the Sultans (15-3-4 overall) but rose to the occasion when it counted most by dealing Santana a 2-0 defeat in the semifinals.

Goalkeeper Alex Shields scored on a penalty kick in the first half and top scorer Austin Moore added a goal from the field in the second half. The shutout was the 10th of the season for Shields, who also takes PKs for the team in scoring situations.

The Cougars (17-4) had more touches on the ball in the first half of play against Hilltop, though the Lancers seemed to have the better scoring opportunities.

Shields made two clutch saves to deny Hilltop during a fierce goalmouth scramble and successfully guarded the net on a screaming shot just wide by Lancer senior Isaac Rocha.

Steele Canyon took a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute on a deflected shot by midfielder Victor Carlos. Landon McDowell had taken a long throw-in that midfielder Kyle Medina had gotten a head on, but the ball was subsequently cleared out by the Lancer defense.

However, the ball wasn’t cleared far enough out of danger. Carlos retrieved the ball and fired a volley that changed direction on Hilltop goalkeeper Pablo Torrez.

“I tried to put in on the right side, but it deflected,” Carlos said.

The game remained in the balance for the next 23 minutes until Moore scored the first of his two goals in the final. Both goals came while running onto long through passes along the left-attacking wing.

Moore, one of the largest targets on the pitch, made the score 2-0 in the 60th minute; he iced the game in the 64th minute to make the score 3-0.

Danny Medina received the assist on the 2-0 goal.

“Danny just kicked it and I just ran onto the ball and I found the back of the net,” Moore said. “That goal (to make the score 2-0) really deflated them. We knew at that point that we were going to win the championship.”

As for the 3-0 goal — Moore’s team-leading 16th of the season?

“Icing on the cake,” he said with a smile.

But the game was not exactly over yet. Danny Medina received a red card with 11 minutes remaining in regulation time, forcing the Cougars to play a man down.

But the Steele Canyon defense failed to bend in recording the team’s seventh consecutive win and 11th shutout for Shields.

“I give a lot of credit to them,” Hilltop head coach John Salts offered in praise of the Cougars. “They played an amazing game. They had a great season that got them here.

“We struggled all game long to get our game down and our touch down. But nothing can take away from the amazing season we had.”

The Cougars’ own amazing season continued into Tuesday’s Southern California Division IV quarterfinal game against visiting Quartz Hill (14-5-4). Steele Canyon received the No. 2 seed in the eight-team draw behind top-seeded Montclair (20-4-1).

San Diego Section Division IV champion Crawford (19-2-4) received the No. 3 seed for regionals.

Semifinal games were scheduled Thursday with the regional championship game set for Saturday at the higher-seeded team.

Boys soccer standings

(Through Feb. 26)

Grossmont Valley League

Santana 10-0, 15-3-4

Steele Canyon 8-2, 17-4

Monte Vista 3-5-2, 5-12-3

El Cajon Valley 2-5-3, 5-14-4

El Capitan 2-7-1, 7-14-3

Mount Miguel 1-7-2, 14-11-6

Grossmont Hills League

Grossmont 7-1, 8-10

West Hills 5-3, 6-11-3

Valhalla 3-5, 7-14-1

Granite Hills 2-5-1, 5-13-1

Helix 2-5-1, 3-12-3

Girls soccer standings

(Through Feb. 26)

Grossmont Valley League

Santana 8-0, 12-2-3

Monte Vista 6-2, 12-11-1

El Capitan 4-4, 7-11

Mount Miguel 2-6, 13-6-1

El Cajon Valley 0-8, 5-11-1

Grossmont Hills League

West Hills 6-0-4, 11-4-6

Helix 6-1-3, 10-5-5

Granite Hills 4-3-3, 8-6-4

Steele Canyon 4-4-2, 9-13-4

Grossmont 1-7-2, 3-13-3

Valhalla 0-6-4, 0-12-5