HUNTINGTON BEACH — With four minutes left in regulation of a tied boys' soccer match, Newport Harbor High Coach Juan Mares grabbed his rulebook out of a bag. He was unsure about the overtime rule in Sunset League play.
"It's been 10 years since I've done high school," said Mares, who had his assistant ask the sideline referee if there would be overtime if the match remained even.
Finding the rule in the book was not easy for Mares. Try flipping through pages with gloves on. Mares wore a pair of black ones because it was a chilly Wednesday night in a league opener at Huntington Beach.
Standing around in the cold for 20 minutes of overtime play was more than fine for Mares. The Sailors only won twice in league play last season and they were close to getting a victory in Mares' league debut.
It appeared a tie was in order before Mares made a substitution in the 97th minute. Henri Ramirez made Mares look brilliant.
Ramirez entered and quickly attacked the Oilers and drew a penalty kick after the goalkeeper took him down in the box. Caleb Candelaria lined up to take the PK and he easily beat the keeper with a shot to the left, giving Newport Harbor a 3-2 victory.
"We needed it," Mares said of the victory. "[I'm] just trying to tell these players that they have the ability to step up and improve from last year."
The Sailors (5-4-3, 1-0-0 in league) have quickly turned things around in Mares' first season. With the victory, he said Newport Harbor surpassed last season's win total.
The Sailors are 5-2-2 since going winless in their first three matches of the season. Candelaria, one of the few returning players, has led the way for a young Newport Harbor side.
The junior midfielder scored twice against Huntington Beach, a team the Sailors beat last month in a shootout at the Marina Tournament. Candelaria never got a chance to participate back then because Newport Harbor clinched the win before it was his turn in the penalties.
Candelaria put away his one chance from close range on Wednesday. He can thank Ramirez for the opportunity.
The shifty Ramirez came off the bench for Felix Villavicencio and he made a difference right away.
Ramirez took possession of a ball near the Sailors' sideline, 12 yards away from midfield. He then dribbled toward the top of the box, where a defender tripped him up. Ramirez quickly rose to his feet and the goalkeeper, who came out, had no choice but to take Ramirez down. Ramirez had a wide-open look.
"He made my substitution look great," Mares said with a grin.
Mares was not smiling when Huntington Beach led, 2-1, at halftime.
The same player who gave Newport Harbor fits the last time the Sailors and Oilers met did so again. Max Talbert recorded both of Huntington Beach's goals, each time he broke free from the defense.
Mares got tired of seeing the back of Talbert's long hair. The Sailors adjusted in the second half by marking the senior striker with senior Anthony Jovanelly and having someone in front of Talbert.
The move more than worked for Newport Harbor, which Huntington Beach Coach Austin Nichols said did more than defend his best player.
"They held him the whole second half pretty much. When you get held, it's hard to get through," said Nichols, whose team was unable to get any shots past Newport keeper Rudy Reyes in the second half. "But that's what you've got to do. They did a good job of adjusting and doing whatever it took to stop him."