Broncos come from behind twice against Cougars in instant playoff classic

Raul Cantu (No. 6) celebrates the game-tying goal against Clovis in the Central Section D-1 soccer quarterfinal Feb. 13. Michael Ford/Clovis Roundup

It only figured that round three would be one for the ages.

The Clovis North Broncos and Clovis Cougars boys soccer teams met twice in the regular season, and twice the Broncos came out on top by a score of 1-0 in two defensively-oriented contests.

And after the first half of Thursday’s meeting, it looked as if the third installment in the trilogy would be more of the same.

But then the second half happened.

Both teams’ offenses caught fire in the second 40 minutes and change and the Broncos walked away victors yet again in Clovis North’s 3-2 overtime win in the quarterfinals of the Central Section D-1 playoffs.

It was really a result of the game opening up, Broncos coach Cameron Shahrokhi said.

“The first half, it was kind of like two boxers jabbing, feeling each other out. Neither team was taking a lot of risks,” he said. “In the second half, tired legs on both teams opened it up and there was space to run and attack.”

Cougars midfielder Jesus Ponce, who had a hat trick just in a 4-1 victory over Bullard Tuesday, took advantage first, scoring started in the 45th minute on a lovely bit of dribbling down into the box, where he promptly deposited the ball into the corner of the net past keeper Cooper Wenzel to put his team up 1-0.

However, the lead was short-lived.

Broncos senior Raul Cantu scored the first of his two goals to tie the game right back up, exhibiting a mental toughness that had personified the team throughout the entire season.

In the 66th minute, Ponce looked as if he was the one that was going to be the hero yet again, putting another goal home, and all that was left to do was to play 14 minutes of sound, fundamental defense in order to move on to the semifinal.

It wasn’t to be, to the chagrin of the Cougars.

Cantu and the Broncos responded with heart and desire. With less than a minute left in potentially the last game of the season, a bit of soccer magic happened.

Broncos senior Nathan Arnold delivered a perfect throw-in to the box at the most opportune time, and Cantu scored from point blank to send the home crowd into a frenzy.

The Broncos took that new-found energy and converted it into a focus that would eventually win them the game.

A surge of activity and drive led to a penalty in the eighth minute of overtime providing Clovis North the chance to go ahead for good.

And Coulter Whitlow, who put home the game-winning penalty in the TRAC championship match against Buchanan on Feb. 6, again dealt the final blow, slipping the ball past Clovis keeper Vinny Sabatini.

Cantu was more than proud of the effort.

“It is heartwarming to see my peers go forward because of the two goals, plus Coulter’s goal, it’s amazing,” Cantu said. “It was meant to be.”

The Broncos get back onto the pitch next week to see if the magic will continue, either playing against No. 10 Golden Valley or No. 2 Santa Maria.

No matter what team Clovis North plays, the team plans on doing everything it can to be ready. A game like the one Thursday can go a long way toward that end, Shahrokhi believes.

“We get a few days to train and prepare,” he said. “I think overcoming something like this kind of just gives that added sense of belief to the team that they can overcome anything and come back and keep playing until the last second.”


Michael Ford
Michael graduated from Fresno State in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in print journalism. During his time at the university, he served as sports and managing editor for The Collegian, Fresno State’s student-run newspaper. In addition to the Clovis Roundup, Michael has written for The Fresno Bee, the Kingsburg Recorder and Selma Enterprise. He has a passion for sports and can be found on the sidelines at local games, bringing the citizens of Clovis the athletics news they deserve.