T-Birds edge Comets in conference grudge match

Merritt College score second half penalty kick to seal victory

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

Merritt College converted a penalty kick in the second half to edge its Bay Valley Conference rival 2-1 on Tuesday at the Soccer field.

MC (7-5-2 overall 3-2 BVC) faced the Comets for the first time since it eliminated the squad from playoff contention toward the end of the 2013 season and managed to sneak away with another victory this season.

Contra Costa College (6-5-1 overall 3-2 BVC) competed in its most physical contest this season with both bleachers filled with fans but missed too many first half opportunities to score.

Old wounds were opened, and blood spilled, during the 90-minute grudge match disguised as a soccer game.

“It doesn’t make any difference if you know the guy,” Comet center back Bradley Alman said. “You kind of forget who you know during the game and just try to win.”

At 74 minutes, during a slow MC transition into CCC’s defensive third, players from both teams clustered in the penalty area as they exchanged shoves and audible clashes of shin guards.

As the Comet defensive backline attempted to clear the ball out of their penalty area a Thunderbird player attempting to score went face down into the grass and a foul was called.

Moments later, Merritt was celebrating after converting a penalty kick that put it ahead 2-1.

“If the referee sees a player go down in the box he is going to call it,” Comet center defensive midfielder Nicolas Bob said. “I don’t think it was a foul, it’s all arguable, but we should have scored more goals.”

The contagiously jovial Comet squad took a more workman-like approach to the contest beginning with the pre-game routine.

“The intensity was there,” Alman said. “Because we know that (Merritt) is one of the top teams in the (BVC).”

The intensity translated onto the field only 30 seconds into the game when CCC forward Kevin Navas attempted a shot from distance but it was deflected by a Thunderbird defender who used his head.

One minute after the opening whistle, the Comets created their second scoring opportunity when a filtered aerial pass found Bob inside the penalty area but he headed the ball high and wide of the goal.

The Thunderbird’s players mirrored speed and agility of the Comets. They also missed their first scoring opportunity in the third minute.

Allowing the ball to settle was a mistake in this contest. The near comparable skill level of players from both teams caused a multitude of turnovers.

The style of play displayed by both teams was aggressive, and the officials made sure their presence was known. They called 15 fouls in the first half alone, plus four yellow cards and one red card for by full time.

“It was physical, and both teams (historically) play more of a finesse game,” CCC coach Nikki Ferguson said. “But (MC) brought more of a physical presence to the game than we did.”

At 20 minutes, a collision forced Alman down to the ground where he held his head in pain. Ferguson had to use one of his substitutions, as Alman could not hide the blood streaming down the corners of his mouth.

After stuffing his mouth with gauze and watching anxiously from the sideline, Alman was subbed back into the game just in time to diffuse a potential Merritt goal scoring opportunity.

The first half closed with the score tied at 0-0.

Minutes into the second half, a chaotic push toward CCC’s goal, prompted by filtered pass,  of well skilled ball handlers inside of the goalie’s box.

Minutes into the second half, possession went back and forth between the two teams.

During one MC counter attack, Comet goalkeeper Stephane Vanier was caught momentarily out of position as he rushed to clear a potential goal scoring opportunity. His punt did not make good contact with the ball and this allowed a Thunderbird winger to slip a shot into the corner of the net.

CCC’s reactionary energy swung the momentum in its favor when a quick counter attack forced the Merritt goalkeeper to save a Comet shot on goal.

The following play by the Thunderbird goalie became an opportunity that the Comets would not let slip by.

As the MC goalkeeper cuffed the ball and drew it behind his back, his hip dislodged the ball from his hands.

The loose ball fell in perfect position for Bob to poach a goal when his shot went into the corner of the goal to tie the game at 1-1.

At 70 minutes, the game intensified after Bob scored the second goal of the half.

Ferguson substituted in his speedy reserves to take advantage of the Thunderbirds fatigue in a final push upfield for a scoring opportunity.

After two unsuccessful last minute scoring attempts by the Comets, Ferguson was left with rallying his players, and applauding their good defensive recovery during counter attacks.

Merritt, however, held onto its one goal lead until the final whistle to escape with a win.

CCC, Merritt and Marin now share second place in the BVC under conference leader, Mendocino College. The Comets return to action at the College of Marin on Friday at 4 p.m.