ELKO – With a 5-1 loss to North Valleys on Friday, the Elko soccer team was eliminated from postseason contention.
The Indians faced a stellar team Friday, one of a different class – literally – as the Panthers were the 2017 No. 1 seed of the state tournament from the 4A North, dropping to the 3A this season.
Loaded with a heavy-senior class of 18 players, North Valleys has shown been a juggernaut through its first-14 league games – ripping off a 13-game winning streak before losing a 4-3 ballgame to Sparks.
In the early stages of Friday’s game, the Indians hung with the Panthers – although North Valleys dominated the time of possession and the field position.
The Panthers earned several corner kicks and made numerous pushes toward the Elko box, but the Indians played collective defense – scrambling to the ball and deflecting shots.
In the ninth minute, Elko found its first sot – coming on a solid rip from the right wing by junior Natu Meles – the North Valleys goalie making a save.
In the back end of the Indians’ defense, senior Andres Salas made multiple deflections that saved potential on the scoreboard.
Meles made another surge toward the Panther’s frame, a slide tackle by the North Valleys defender giving the Indians a corner kick.
The field position swapped, and North Valleys interfered with in the box – the Panthers earning a penalty kick in the 14th minute.
Elko senior goalkeeper Ryan Skidmore guessed correctly and dove to his left – making a resounding save – leaving the contest a scoreless affair.
The Indians dodged another bullet when senior Rene Perez was left open on the left wing, his kick sailing toward an open net but missing wide to the right.
North Valleys broke through on a breakdown.
Elko’s defenders stopped stepping to the ball handlers, leaving senior Luis Chavez a hack.
His shot deflected off an Elko defender and marked the game’s first score in the 23rd minute.
The Indians gained a long attempt in the 26th minute off the foot of junior Noe Guzman, but the ball was saved.
Just two minutes later, Elko’s defense collapsed to one side of the field – the pass crossing to senior Bryan Morales.
Morales was wide open and won a one-on-one against the goalie with ease, a ball fake leaving an empty frame – the lead growing to 2-0 in the 28th minute.
Elko’s attempts to move the ball downfield relied too heavily on long balls, the passes generally sent too far and scooped up the goalie.
The Panthers nearly took a 3-0 lead on a boot by Morales, but his kick was stymied with a nice defensive play by freshman Freddy Cervantes.
Toward the end of the half, Elko earned a corner kick on a play by senior Lupe Ortiz – the attempt picked off by North Valleys and turned the other way.
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The game went to the break with the Panthers on top, 2-0.
North Valleys went to work early in the second half, a wide-open run through on the right side by senior Josh Guerra opening a 3-0 lead.
Five minutes later, Elko’s halftime deficit doubled.
The Indians lost possession of the ball on the Panthers’ side of the field, but the position changed immediately – senior Uriel Montelongo beating Elko down the field and giving North Valleys a 4-0 advantage.
Elko earned numerous corner kicks, but the Panthers always placed a head on the ball first – moving to the Indians’ side of midfield with regularity.
Skidmore made several stops – one on a corner kick and recovering for another on the put-back try – but the Panthers kept attacking.
After the Indians failed to clear the ball out of the box, junior Gavin Owens gained possession of the rebound and turned his shoulders north-south.
Owens pummeled the net on the right side for a 5-0 lead in the 60th minute.
Elko’s best chance to drain a shot came in the 66th minute, sophomore Jose Ventura making a run down the right side.
North Valleys’ goalie lost his footing and fell to the ground, leaving a wide-open frame.
The shot was not taken, rather sent toward the middle with a pass to Meles – the goalie back on his feet and snagging the ball.
In the 70th minute, Elko found another golden chance down the middle but a kick was whiffed.
The Indians finally found the scoreboard in the 71st minute.
Senior Eddy Sainz drew a foul from the top of the box on the left side, giving Meles a PK.
His boot smoked the net on the upper-right side of the frame, cutting the lead to 5-1.
In the 76th minute, Skidmore made another impressive stuff.
On a North Valleys PK, Skidmore dove to his right and stopped the shot cold – regaining his bearings for another deflection on the rebound.
The Indians fell to 4-9-1 in league play with a 5-1 loss, the Panthers improving to 14-1 in the Division 3A North.
Elko will close its weekend with a noon Saturday kickoff versus another top-notch program, the Railroaders of Sparks (12-1-1), at Adobe Middle School.
The Indians trail No. 6 Spring Creek (5-7-1) and No. 5 South Tahoe (8-6-1) for the final berth to the 3A North regional tournament, the Vikings with 25 points in the standings – leaving the Indians unable to overcame the 12-point hole with only four games remaining – South Tahoe holding the head-to-head advantage should Elko win out and force a tie if the Vikings lost all their remaining matches or did not gain a single tie.