Jordan Bell struggled to hold back his tears on Saturday evening.
The senior goalkeeper who played his final game as a Knight made nine saves in net and helped St. Francis soccer defeat Cathedral Catholic, 4-2, at Warren High's Justice Stadium to claim the CIF Regional Div. II Championship only days after the CIF-SS Championship evaded them.
Yet, it was not the taste of victory that drove Bell to choke on his words. After the game, he told the Valley Sun he dedicated the championship game to his 22-year-old deceased brother, who died of heart failure. Before starting each half, Bell said he etches his brother's initials in the grass by the goalpost to keep his spirit nearby.
After his performance on Saturday and throughout the season, Bell's name will be etched in the minds of everyone affiliated with St. Francis High School, along with the names of upcoming school legends like sophomores Eric Verso and Jake LaPorte.
â€œWe were just happy to be here,â€ St. Francis Head Coach Glen Appels said after the game. â€œI told my guys it was one in a million times we could get a second shot at something like this and they took advantage of it.â€
Verso scored another playoff goal â€” his fifth of the regionals and eighth of the playoffs â€” and assisted on two others, while LaPorte scored twice and senior Amir Moore connected in his final goal in a brown-and-gold jersey.
It was Verso who set the tone early, finding the back of the net on a pass from G.P. Gonzales in the second minute. In the 10th minute, Verso connected with LaPorte made it 2-0 on an aggressive attack inside the goal box. Verso racked up his second assist when he found Moore for the game-winner in the 24th minute on an electrifying play a few yards in front of goal. LaPorte added a fourth goal in the 34th minute to put the game away for good.
â€œHe's been brilliant,â€ Appels said about Verso's brilliant play in the playoffs. â€œHe's had goals every game. He also draws guys where he has two or three guys coming at him and he's able to find other guys on our team.â€
The Dons (19-7-4) attempted to come back by adding a goal just before halftime and another midway through the second half, but it was not enough to get passed a hot St. Francis team.
The game was marred by questionable officiated and a frustrated losing team â€” Cathedral players were issued two red cards and two yellow cards throughout the game.
â€œThey are winners,â€ Appels told the Valley Sun during the medal presentations. â€œToday it shows. We fought our way through some injuries and some heartbreaking losses. It's an enormous day!â€
The Knights (18-6-4) earned its way to the regional championship game with a spectacular 3-1 victory over CIF San Diego Division II Champion Valhalla in the semifinals of the CIF Division II Regionals on March 12
Verso scored two of his eight playoff goals against the Norseman in the season's final game at Friedman Field.
The St. Francis defense limited the Norsemen one corner kick all game and just one shot the entire first-half (six for the entire game). St. Francis, who was already up 2-1 at the half, played like a well-oiled machine in the second half, scoring a third goal and nearly a fourth that went off the side of the net. Bell made five saves and Moore had one assist.
Saturday's championship was St. Francis' first in soccer since 2003.