SANTA ANA — Recent history is showing that it is unwise to sleep on the Estancia High boys' soccer team. But Friday the Eagles proved that merely blinking can be equally detrimental for opponents.
After taking a 1-0 lead in a crucial Orange Coast League clash at Saddleback, Estancia rallied from a 3-1 deficit to claim a 3-3 tie.
Senior midfielder Christian Gomez, serving as a one-man wake-up call after the Roadrunners (12-3-4, 4-2-2 in league) scored three straight goals to seize a seemingly comfortable halftime advantage, produced two goals and an assist for the Eagles (8-5-6, 3-2-2).
It was the second time in three games that Estancia rallied from a big deficit to salvage a tie. The Eagles trailed at Laguna Beach, 3-0, in the 41st minute, before scoring three, two by Gomez, to produce a stalemate on Jan. 25.
With Costa Mesa's victory over Calvary Chapel on Friday, Estancia falls to fourth place, one point behind the Mustangs (3-1-4 in league for 13 points, based on three points for a win and one for a tie).
Estancia remains two points behind Saddleback, while Godinez leads the league at 5-1-2.
The Eagles play host to Godinez on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m., then close the regular season on Thursday against last-place Calvary Chapel at Centennial Park. Estancia beat Godinez, 2-1, and topped Calvary Chapel, 3-0, in the first round.
The top three teams in league are guaranteed CIF Southern Section playoff berths, but no fourth-place team with at least a .500 record will be denied an at-large berth.
Gomez, the Orange Coast League Offensive Player of the Year as a junior, when he led the Eagles in goals (10) and assists (four), now has seven goals in six games after missing the first 13 contests of the season due to what Eagles Coach Robert Castellano called disciplinary problems.
In six games with Gomez, Estancia has produced 11 goals, two shy of its output in 13 games without Gomez.
A through ball by Gomez set Kevin Pizarro up for the game's first goal. Pizarro settled the pass that bounded waist-high, before popping the ball past Saddleback goalkeeper Ivan Zamora in the 13th minute.
But the lead lasted fewer than three minutes, as Garry Carbajal knotted things for the hosts in the 16th minute.
Senior Danny Vasquez put the Roadrunners ahead just more than five minutes later, stealing the ball from an Estancia defender, dribbling past another defender and beating the goalkeeper just inside the near post.
Saddleback, which defeated Estancia, 1-0, on Jan. 18, doubled its lead in the 31st minute when Vasquez outpaced a defender on a sideline run that spanned two thirds of the field, then directed a cross to a streaking Mario Guerrero. Guerrero got his left foot on the ball and directed it into the upper right corner of the net.
Despite the urging of Castellano and his assistants, the Eagles were clearly downtrodden as they returned to their bench for halftime.
But Gomez elevated his team in the 56th minute with the first of his two well-placed scoring drives from distance. This time, he took advantage of Zamora's aggressiveness, as the keeper sprinted well off his line to head a ball toward midfield. But the ball caromed directly to Gomez, who popped it back over Zamora and into the right corner of the cage from about 25 yards out.
The energized Eagles began getting the best of play as Saddleback seemed to be content to try to milk the clock.
"In the middle of the second half, we stopped putting a line in the middle and that's when [the Eagles] started generating offense," Saddleback Coach Mel Silva said. "We kind of took a 10-minute lull period there and [the Eagles] found a second wind and went after it."
Castellano said his players responded to the opportunity to avoid defeat.
"Sometimes we need that goal against us so that we can start chasing the game," Castellano said. "We need to start chasing the game from the beginning."
Gomez capped the comeback in the 77th minute, firing a free kick from 20 yards out around a wall of Saddleback defenders and just inside the far post to knot the score at 3-3.
Castellano said his young team has shown resiliency in the face of adversity and its fitness level helps it play at a high level after halftime.
Castellano, who praised the play of defenders Alex Esquivel and Christian Montillo, as well as midfielder Marco Pineda, also credited the presence of Gomez for providing the firepower to rally.
"[Gomez] has a lot of composure and a calmness," Castellano said. "He's got something special. Yes, he gets a little chippy and he has a little attitude [Gomez earned a yellow card for exchanging words with an opponent and did not take part in the postgame handshake between the teams], but he's got talent."