Knights outlast Matadors to prevail for Division V boys soccer title

Photo by Phillip Brents Players brace for a possible rebound as Foothills Christian’s Jake Saffer prepares to convert on a penalty kick that pushed the Knights ahead, 2-1, in the 49th minute.

For fans of offensive-minded soccer, this year’s San Diego Section Division V boys championship match between the top-seeded Foothills Christian Knights and the seventh-seeded Mount Miguel Matadors was a feast for the eyes.

But not so much for the weak of heart.

Both teams attacked with abandon. The result was a thrill-packed adventure on the pitch that was eventually decided in the penalty kicks from the mark (KFM) tiebreaker.

Both teams were equally deserving of a victory, though the Knights eventually won the tiebreaker 4-3 following a 2-2 draw through regulation and overtime to gain possession of the championship banner.

The CIF divisional boys soccer championship is the first in school history for Foothills Christian, which is based in El Cajon.

The championship game, which took place May 28 at Eastlake High School, was a new experience for the Spring Valley-based Matadors as well.

Foothills Christian’s girls team previously captured the Division V championship in 2020. The schools’ boys team advanced as far as the Division V semifinals that same season.

The Knights won their opening two playoff matches this season by a combined score of 12-0 — 5-0 against eighth-seeded Escondido Charter in the quarterfinals on May 22 and 7-0 against fifth-seeded Holtville in the semifinals on May 26.

The Matadors had a more circuitous journey to advance to the championship game. Mount Miguel defeated 10th-seeded Bayfront Charter, 2-0, in the opening round on May 19, then promptly handed second-seeded Liberty Charter a 3-1 upset defeat in the division quarterfinals. The Matadors then defeated 11th-seeded Del Lago Academy, 2-0, in the semifinals.

Foothills Christian and Mount Miguel had previously met in a non-league clash on April 9. The Knights on 9-4. The 13 goals proved to be a portent of things to come in the division final.

Foothills Christian, which entered the division final sporting a rather prodigious 20-1-2 record, seemed to control much of the action in the opening minutes of the final. However, momentum seemed to shift after the Matadors nearly scored on their first foray down the field.

Coaches of underdog teams call it “weathering the storm” — surviving an opening onslaught by the higher-seeded team — and the Matadors did just that to play even-up the remainder of the match.

Though the teams’ rematch did not feature as many goals, it was no less exciting.

Senior Adam Barre scored on a long shot from near the touchline to the left of the Mount Miguel net in the eighth minute of play. The play developed off a short corner kick.

The Matadors quickly showed they came ready to play when they equalized the score just two minutes later on a shot by Bruno Rios Reyes after the Mount Miguel sophomore had accepted a through ball and broke alone inside the box.

A Foothills Christian defender cleared another Matador shot off the goal line three minutes before the end of the first half to keep the score level.

The Knights got the first break of the second half when a handball in the box led to a penalty kick in the 48th minute that was successfully converted by senior Jake Saffer.

Ahead 2-1 on the scoreboard Foothills Christian could not get the knockout goal before their adversary on the pitch managed to tie the score.

The Matadors appeared to equalize the game on a long free kick in the 53rd minute but the apparent goal was waved off due to an infraction.

Mount Miguel (10-8-2) did equalize the score nine minutes later when sophomore Ricardo Beltran finally punched the ball into the net amid a furious goalmouth scramble following a corner kick.

Foothills sophomore goalkeeper Trey Clark appeared to make the first save but was unable to collect the bouncing ball.

Clark, however, came back to redeem himself in the tiebreaker, which resulted following 15 minutes of a tense scoreless sudden-victory overtime period.

Clark stopped two shots while stepping up to take the deciding penalty to finally put the Knights over the edge.

Both teams scored on three of their first four tiebreaker shots. Barre (who notched a team-high five shots in the match), Saffer and sophomore Kevin Mayer all scored into the Mount Miguel net. Clark made team history when he scored and then stopped Leron Wallace on the Matadors’ final shot.

The Knights recorded 18 shots through the duration of the contest while Clark was credited with eight saves. He stopped two of the five PKs taken against him.

Saffer, who had a goal and two assists in the quarterfinal win and three goals and one assist in the semifinal victory, converted both spot-kicks he took in the game.

Foothills Christian (20-2-3) earned the No. 5 seed in the Southern California Division V regional playoffs but was unable to duplicate its magic from the section finals following a 4-1 loss to fourth-seeded Sherman Oaks in the quarterfinals on June 1.

Saffer proved to be a scoring machine for the Knights with 32 goals and 31 assists (95 points) in 21 match appearances. Junior Elijah Morr ranked second in team scoring with 24 goals and 38 assists (86 points). Barre was right behind with 32 goals and 21 assists for 85 points.

Mayer collected 26 goals and 13 assists for 65 scoring points as the team’s No. 4 scoring leader. Freshman Dane Peterson notched four goals and six assists for 14 points in his debut varsity season.

Peterson led the way with two goals and two assists in the quarterfinal victory.

Clark logged a 0.983 goals-against average through 22 games with a 0.739 save percentage as the Knights amassed 14 shutouts through the season, including playoffs.

Foothills Christian won the Ocean League championship with an unblemished 8-0 league record, finishing ahead of runner-up Calvin Christian (4-2 in league, 10-5-2 overall).

Mount Miguel finished third in the Grossmont Valley League standings with a 3-4-1 record, placing behind league champion Monte Vista (8-8-3, 7-0-1 in league) and runner-up Santana (6-13-1, 5-2-1).

Bayfront Charter (4-9-1) defeated Lakeside’s River Valley Charter, 16-1, in a play-in game on May 18.

Mountain Empire (11-4) received the No. 4 seed in the division but was unable to get past Holtville (10-4-4) in the quarterfinals while dropping a KFM decision following a 1-1 standoff on the pitch. The Red Hawks had finished as Frontier Patriot League champions (8-0 in league play).

El Capitan (4-9-1) received the No. 6 seed in the division but was eliminated, 1-0, by Del Lago Academy (5-3-4) in the opening round. The Vaqueros had finished fourth in the Grossmont Valley League standings (2-5-1 league record).

Liberty Charter, based in Lemon Grove, finished its season 8-4-3 overall, 6-3-2 in the Frontier-Patriot League.

Monte Vista ended its season with a 3-1 loss to Grossmont in a Division II play-in game while Santana did not qualify for the playoffs.