LA CRESCENTA — While battling pain in both of his calves, Pavle Atanackovic seemingly needed to find another way to score. The Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer player used his head, lifting the Falcons to a first-round playoff victory.
Atanackovic scored three goals on headers — including the match-winning tally three minutes into sudden-death overtime — to propel host Crescenta Valley to a 3-2 CIF Southern Section Division IV win against Laguna Beach on Thursday afternoon.
In the process, Atanackovic raised his goal total to a school-record 36 and helped the third-seeded Falcons (17-0-6) advance to the second round against Diamond Bar at a site to be determined on Tuesday.
"Both of my legs were cramping and we had to do something," said Atanackovic, whose team trailed, 2-0, at halftime before dominating the majority of the second half and overtime. "It's just about being out there on adrenaline and doing what you can to help the team win."
In overtime, Crescenta Valley, which won its third Pacific League championship in a row, was awarded a free kick near the Laguna 40-yard line.
Alex Berger took the kick and Atanackovic got around a Laguna Beach defender and headed the ball past goalkeeper Alec Williams. Atanackovic, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year who scored 33 goals last season, was then met by his relieved teammates for a celebration.
"It was a low ball and I was looking right into the sun before picking it up," said Atanackovic, who recorded his fifth hat trick this season. "Alex and I have played together for a long time and I knew that's where he would put the ball.
"I knew it was going in."
Berger, a midfielder and reigning All-Area honoree, said the Falcons had a chance to win the match with the free kick.
"It was kind of a set play," Berger said. "With free kicks like that, you know Pavle is a tall guy.
"We worked hard as a team to get the win."
Things started off on the wrong note for the Falcons in the first half. Laguna Beach (9-7-3) took a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute when Reece Barton headed in a direct kick from Chris Tellez past Crescenta Valley goalkeeper Nick Ruiz.
Laguna Beach, which received an at-large berth after taking fourth in the Orange Coast League before posting a 2-1 wild-card victory against El Segundo on Tuesday, made it 2-0 when Barton scored on a rebound in the 26th minute.
Crescenta Valley first-year Coach Grant Clark said the Falcons had enough time to mount a rally.
"After halftime, I thought we were very focused the rest of the way," Clark said. "We just had to apply the pressure.
"Part of that is because we have a lot of senior leadership."
Crescenta Valley pulled to within 2-1 in the 49th minute, when Atanackovic headed in a cross pass from Salar Hajimirsadeghi.
Four minutes later, Atanackovic headed in a throw-in by Erick Trejo to knot the match at 2 and provide additional momentum for the Falcons.
Atanackovic then scored the winning goal to keep the Falcons' season alive.
"We just want to keep playing," Atanackovic said.