The third time proved to not be the charm in the regional championship game a week ago, and the fourth time turned out to be not that much more charming. Sparks gave Incline a battle, however, and it was the first time this season the local school did not lose 3-1 to the Highlanders.
Searching for revenge for three previous losses, the Railroaders took on Incline one last time only to see a header trickle into the back of the net to give the Highlanders a 1-0 double overtime win in the 3A state championship game at Damonte Ranch Saturday night.
"Sparks played wonderful. Sparks played obviously its best game over the year," Incline coach Tom Canino said. "They have no reason to hang their heads after that game, although I understand where they're at. They played great."
There's no denying Incline (23-1-1) is the top team in the 3A. The Highlanders dealt a season-ending blow to Truckee a day earlier, sending the Wolverines to their fourth defeat of the fall at the hands of the Highlanders. Incline turned the same trick against Sparks in the title clash, despite the Northern 3A's leading scorer Alex Reyes not recording a goal.
While Sparks senior defender Danny Ornelas helped keep Reyes from lighting up the scoreboard, unlike the regional championship game when Reyes had a hat trick, the Maroon and Gold could not deny the game-winner off a set piece in the 103rd minute.
After being dominated for most of the 80 minutes of regulation and the 15 minutes of the first overtime, Incline got a chance to do some damage on a free kick from 34 yards out.
Michael Ceragioli floated a kick to the far post and Edward Rodriguez was there to pop a header over Sparks goalkeeper Javier Torres with 6:40 remaining in the second sudden death overtime.
"We have a lot of talent and we have an excellent team style that's really fun to watch. These guys really play together. It's a lot of talent and a lot of team. It's a wonderful group to spend the year with," Canino said.
The tension was thick throughout the match. Incline was getting openly frustrated with the lack of offensive opportunities and that led to tantrums and hard fouls. The Highlanders received three yellow cards in the second half.
But the Railroaders just kept pushing the attack, and Incline keeper Carlos Garcia was up to the task, denying two rocket shots with his knee and stopping another hard shot with a diving save - all in the second 40 minutes of play.
Much like the first half when Incline stepped up the pressure in the closing minutes, it did the same in the second half. Reyes tried his hardest to avoid the drama of overtime when he unleashed a laser with his left foot in the 73rd minute. The shot beat Torres, but a Sparks defender standing in goal sacrificed his body and knocked away the sure goal.
So after 80 minutes didn't decide a state champion, the game went to its first 15-minute overtime period.
It looked like the Railroaders might end the overtime quickly. In the first minute and a half, Abi Quintino sent a through ball ahead to Andrew Garcia. Incline's Garcia came all the way out of the box to deny what would have been a breakaway for the Sparks forward.
The Railroaders (14-5-2) played their hearts out, but that will provide only a small consolation for a program looking for its first state crown. It was Incline's first state title since 2002.
"We played better than we played all year," Sparks boys soccer coach Frank Avilla said. "We talked about it all week that this would be a physical game and it came that way. I couldn't be prouder of our boys. I still think we're one of the better teams in this area. I think Sparks High soccer has arrived. We're going to keep working hard for success.
"We teach our boys to play solid, aggressive and within the rules of the sport. I think today they represented this sport beautifully. I've very happy with them."