COSTA MESA — The game got more than a little chippy in the second half.
One player from each side earned a red card. By the end of regulation time, there wasn't a lot of love lost between the players from the Estancia and Costa Mesa high school boys' soccer teams Wednesday in the first Battle for the Bell game.
His team trying to protect a one-goal lead, Costa Mesa Coach Juan Becerra seemed surprised when the referee told him there would be seven minutes of stoppage time added on.
Estancia made the most of it.
Junior forward Christian Gomez scored in the stoppage time, helping the Eagles manage a 2-2 tie with the Mustangs at Jim Scott Stadium.
Halfway through Orange Coast League play, Costa Mesa (9-6-2, 2-2-1 in league) remains a point ahead of Estancia (7-4-4, 1-1-3). The Mustangs are in third place in league behind undefeated Saddleback (5-0) and also Godinez (3-1-1), with the Eagles in fourth.
Estancia appeared ready to run away with Wednesday's game in the first half, after senior Alan Anaya scored on a free kick from 20 yards out midway through the first half. The Eagles were dominating time of possession and scoring opportunities, with Gomez crossing the ball into the box from the right side several times to teammates.
"They got everybody behind the ball," Estancia Coach Robert Castellano said. "Every shot we got, we'd beat the goalie but there'd be another defender to get to the ball out of there. [Costa Mesa] played with their hearts today, and we were a little unlucky in front of the goal."
The Mustangs hung tough on defense behind the play of sophomore goalie Brandon Menes (nine saves) and defenders Bryan Ruiz, Alexis Herrera and Oscar Dorantes.
"I owe [Menes] pizza, I really do," Becerra said. "If it wasn't for him, this [game] would have been totally different."
Mesa evened the score in the 36th minute, after Cesar Pineda was taken down in the box. Estancia goalie Alexis Plata (three saves) blocked Mesa senior Jorge Sanchez's penalty kick, but the ball rebounded right back to the Mustangs and Sanchez stuck it in.
The Mustangs kept countering the Eagles' attack, primarily with Sanchez. Then they suddenly opened up a 2-1 lead in the 52nd minute, when Dorantes scored off Pineda's cross from the left.
The play got more and more aggressive, with several yellow cards issued. Midway through the second half Mesa senior captain Jesus Delgado got tangled up with Estancia senior Vicente Lopez in front of the Eagles' bench. Lopez was issued a red card and Delgado a yellow.
"They were on the floor kind of struggling to get up," Becerra said. "I guess my guy maybe elbowed him, so this guy reacted, turned around and got him in the face."
Becerra talked to Delgado after he was sent off, telling him winning the game would be the best revenge. But the Mustangs were unable to score an insurance goal, even up a man. Then the sides became even again, when Delgado got his second yellow card — an automatic red — after taking down an Eagles player in the closing minutes.
Estancia started attacking even more aggressively, needing the equalizer. Senior Oscar Barannon put the ball into the net on a header, but offside was called after the referees conferred.
"He's like our sparkplug; he picks us up as soon as he steps on the pitch," Castellano said. "We're going to miss Vicente [in our next league game], but Oscar can definitely step up for us and fill that hole."
Finally Gomez got the goal the Eagles needed. He got it on the rebound, after the Mustangs saved yet another goal. Standing on the goal line Herrera kicked the ball away, but it ended up at Gomez's foot.
This time he did it himself instead of setting up his teammates, scoring to tie it at 2-2. Two minutes later, a pushing match broke out between two players near the Mesa goal.
"You've got to end this now, or it's going to end ugly," Becerra told the referee.
Soon it was over, each team earning a point for a tie. The Battle for the Bell will now be riding on the teams' league finale Feb. 9, a game that could also be crucial in determining playoff positioning.
"We have that light still, to try to get to the league championship," said Becerra, the Mustangs' first-year coach. "To me, that's the priority. Getting to playoffs, it's important to me, but I really want to change what's going on with Mesa. They haven't won [league] in so long."
Estancia had won four straight Orange Coast League titles prior to last year, but is now just 0-1-2 the last two years against Costa Mesa.
"We've got a bad taste in our mouths from losing to them last year," Castellano said. "We're definitely going for that 'W' the next time we play. We went for it tonight, too, but just couldn't get it. Just a little bit unlucky."