Grizzlies ousted in final seconds

His arms spread wide, Cam Riemhofer launched himself across the turf like a kid on a slip-n-slide.

It may have been a wet-and-wild playoff match loaded with near misses and brutal slide tackles, but for the Mountain View Cougars the last few seconds — of regulation and overtime — were all fun and games.

Hunter Martinez scored a controversial equalizer with 14 seconds left in regulation and Riemhofer netted the game-winner with 20 seconds to go in overtime as Mountain View shocked Ashland 3-2 in a round of 16 Class 5A boys soccer playoff match Tuesday at Ashland Middle School.

The Cougars (9-3-3), the Intermountain League champions, move on to play Crescent Valley in the quarterfinals Saturday, while Ashland (9-4), the Southern Oregon Hybrid 5A champs, are left to consider what might have been.

"The more you play this game, the more you see that an inch here, an inch there matters a lot," Ashland head coach Brad Roupp said. "And that's what happened today.

"They made the right plays at the right time."

The right time turned out to be in the waning moments, first as the Grizzlies were one stop away from celebrating, and later as the game looked destined for a shootout.

Martinez's goal came out of nowhere, and will no doubt be a sore subject here for years to come. The senior midfielder darted into the box and appeared to arrive at the ball moments after Ashland goalkeeper Zach Hartman corralled a pass into the box. But Martinez kicked the ball away and ended up with an easy point-blank shot that filled the net and set off a series of Ashland protests.

Roupp declined to blame the referees for the score. Mountain View head coach Chris Rogers said Martinez earned it.

"It was a scrappy one, and he just out-worked the defender for the ball and got it," Rogers said. "The keeper kind of made a save and it fell out real fortunate to his feet, and (Martinez) just tapped it in."

The play proved to have multiple repercussions later when Ashland senior midfielder Neil Presicci, who's 30-yard rocket tied the game at 1-all in the second half, was tagged with a soft red card (two yellows) as he complained while heading to the Ashland bench.

The Grizzlies could have used Presicci, their tallest player, on the game-winner, which was a virtual replay of Mountain View's first goal. Martinez, standing near midfield, launched a free kick into the box, where Riemhofer somehow avoided a sea of legs to head in his second goal of the day.

"That late in the game, we're just trying to pitch balls forward, just trying hopefully to get lucky, and luckily (Riemhofer) ran underneath that one," Rogers said. "You know, they weren't pretty goals, but the field's wet. We were just pushing and we believed."

After the goal Riemhofer sprinted across the field and executed a mud-caked belly-slide along the Cougars' bench before being mobbed by teammates as the Grizzlies looked on in disbelief.

"We saw it happen earlier in the game," Presicci said. "That kid made two big plays."

Riemhofer's first gave the visitors a 1-0 lead six minutes into the second half and was nearly identical to his second, except for the start of the play — about 10-yards inside midfield.

The dramatic tie-breaker didn't alter the style of play as the two 5A juggernauts — Mountain View lost in the state championship game last year and Ashland was the runner up in 2008 — continued to take turns hacking away, setting up shots and mostly battling to a draw on a seemingly endless supply of 50-50 balls.

In the 62nd minute, Ashland responded spectacularly. Taking a free kick from about 30 yards out, left of center, Presicci fired off a laser toward the upper far post that looked like it would sail wide.

"That's outta here," a Mountain View fan hollered.

He was wrong. The ball curled impossibly at the last moment, banged off the post and settled into the back of the net as the stretched-out Mountain View goalkeeper Brandon Navarro fell to the turf. It was Presicci's second 30-yard goal in two playoff games this season, and he celebrated by dropping to his knees and clenching his fists.

"We needed a lift and I decided to get something on frame," Presicci said. "At that point in time I was trying to just get us back in it, and it worked out."

The shot seemed to ignite a fire under the Grizzlies over the next few minutes, and they cashed in in the 65th when junior halfback Simon Jensen fired a shot in the box that ricocheted off a Mountain View defender and into the net to give the Grizzlies a 2-1 lead.

That brought Ashland within 15 minutes, plus stoppage time, of another quarterfinal berth.

The Cougars came close to tying the game four times in that span before Martinez finally came through, including a shot by Riemhofer in the 80th minute that required a nice save by Hartman.

Compared to the thrill-a-minute regulation, overtime was somewhat of a letdown as fatigue and the elements began to wear on both teams. Ashland's best chance to re-take the lead came near the end of the first 10-minute overtime session, when Chris Landt sent a cross to Dakota Wolff, whose header was caught out of the air by Navarro.

Wolff and Landt were at it again in the second half of OT, but this time it was Landt who took the shot, and shanked it high.

Both teams missed opportunities like that throughout the nip-and-tuck contest, but in the end Mountain View out-shot Ashland 24-16, including 14-12 on goal.

"It's amazing, truly amazing to beat a team that actually probably outplayed us," Rogers said. "My hat's off to (the Grizzlies). They're a great side, great coach. They moved the ball fantastic.

"It sucks that they're not in the tournament right now because they're the best team we've played all year and they really deserve to still be there."

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