(Photo: Nick Snow/Special to azcentral sports)
Arizona high school sports has its fair share of dynasties. The Brophy swim team’s 12-year title run comes to mind – as does Saguaro’s 5-year dominance in football.
But there’s another team outside of Phoenix that has started to build its own dynasty – Yuma Catholic boys soccer.
Saturday, Yuma Catholic added another chapter to its already historic legacy, clinching its fourth-straight state title with a 5-1 win over Arizona College Prep in the Conference 3A championship at Gilbert Williams Field High School.
“I got kind of emotional,” Yuma Catholic coach Ralph Evans said. “We’re the third team in the state to win four championships in a row and we’re the only school in Yuma County to win four. Nobody usually mentions those Catholic kids from Yuma (when you think about Arizona dynasties). And that’s good. They keep underestimating us and we don’t care. At the end of the day, if you want to be the best you have to beat the best, and we just have to beat everybody we play.”
From the onset, there was little doubt Yuma Catholic was headed to title No. 4. Even with Arizona College Prep coming in as the top seed, Yuma dominated early.
Eleuterio Gutierrez nearly got Yuma Catholic on the board less than two minutes into the game. He eventually found the back of the net when a rebounded shot kicked free right to him, where he put it in the back of the net.
“I missed in the beginning, but I didn’t keep my head down,” Gutierrez said. “Ernie (Gutierrez) had a great shot and I just got the rebound. I just felt it. My whole season flashed back during that (shot) and we knew that all this hard work paid off.”
Thirteen minutes later, Yuma Catholic showed just why it’s one of the top offensive teams in the state – scoring three times in the span of six minutes – to take a 4-1 lead at halftime.
Arizona College Prep played a little bit better in the second half, and even had a couple of chances to trim the lead. But with a defense that gave up three goals all season, there was little Arizona College Prep could do to break through.
“It was very frustrating and a very tough game,” Arizona College Prep coach Alberto Millan said. “We just were not ready. We had a really good season, and played against really tough teams, but this is the first time we’ve ever made it to a championship. It was that inexperience of being on this stage that really hurt us.”
You could just about pick any player from Yuma Catholic as a standout player – it truly was a team effort. But one player had a little bit bigger impact than others – Eleuterio Gutierrez.
Gutierrez got the offense going by putting the first shot on goal less than two minutes into the game, before notching the game’s first goal at the five-minute mark.
“That was huge,” Evans said. “You know as well as I do, that broke their backs. It really took the wind out of their sails. He’s a real playmaker.”
He then put the cherry on top of Yuma Catholic’s championship sundae by being in the right spot at the right time to score his second goal of the night with eight minutes and 38 seconds left in the game.
Ernie Gutierrez, Yuma Catholic: Gutierrez nearly had a goal early in the first half – when Eleuterio Gutierrez knocked in the rebound that put Yuma Catholic up 2-0 – but he refused to be denied. Less than 15 minutes after the Yuma Catholic scoring onslaught started, the junior finally got on the board himself to make it 3-0.
Ed Morales, Yuma Catholic: In a first half that featured four Yuma Catholic goals, Morales was the last. He took a free kick from Junior Mendez and buried it in the back of the net, giving Yuma Catholic a 4-0 lead 24 minutes in.
Ramon Urbano, Yuma Catholic: Playing in his final game, Urbano went out as a four-time champion. His goal with 22:54 left in the half provided much-needed insurance and gave Yuma Catholic a 2-0 lead.
“He has grown into such a team player,” Evans said. “His freshman year, he was so adolescent. Last year and this year he matured so much it’s just fantastic, and it showed. He was a real sparkplug out there.”
Kadin Rabo, Arizona College Prep: Arizona College Prep didn’t have many chances in the match, but when they did it was usually Rabo leading the way. His goal in the 32nd minute provided just enough of a spark to get Arizona College Prep to halftime.
“That was huge because that gave us a little bit of hope,” Millan said. “With a little bit of hope, you can do a lot. In the second half, we did a lot better than the first half. It was like a night and day difference because of that.”
Quote(s) of the game
With four straight state championships in the bag and a junior class that looks to be one of the most talented groups to come through Yuma, there’s a strong possibility of a five-peat – matching the Saguaro football five-peat. But Evans said he’s not counting on another championship just yet.
“I’m kind of superstitious and I don’t plan anything ahead of time,” Evans said. “We build a wall one brick at a time, so until we have all the bricks we don’t build a wall. I don’t plan on tomorrow until after today’s done.”
For Gutierrez, he’s already thinking about next year and the larger role he’s going to have to play with players like Urbano departing.
“We have the same team, except we’re going to be missing a guy up top and a winger,” Gutierrez said. “We’re going to try really hard and we’re going to work to double what we did this year to get another state championship next year.”