Northlake defeats Ben Franklin 3-0 to win Division III state soccer championship
Ted Lewis, The Times-Picayune, February 25, 2011 10:13 p.m. View full size Timmy Lopez, left, and Sam Beck celebrate Lopez's goal during the Division III state championship soccer match against Ben Franklin on Friday. - (Michael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune)
Timmy Lopez and Weston Acosta are only freshmen at Northlake Christian.
But in soccer savvy, they're wise beyond their years.
Lopez used his head, literally, and Acosta figuratively, in the early minutes to stake the Wolverines to in a commanding lead for what wound up as a 3-0 victory against Ben Franklin for the Division III boys state soccer championship Friday at Tad Gormley Stadium.
"In big games, it comes down to details," Northlake Coach Nick Chetta said. "We always work on details. I'm not always the nicest guy about it, but it paid off tonight."
Lopez' goal was a header on a corner kick by Acosta that went off the hip of Cam Broussard in the 10th minute.
Then, in the 30th minute, Acosta put in a penalty kick from about 20 yards before the Ben Franklin defense was ready.
"I looked over and made contact with Coach Nick, and I knew what to do," said Acosta, who was the game's Outstanding Player. "When you see an opening like that, you've got to take it."
A sterling defensive performance, led by Mallery Mele, did the rest for the Wolverines, who captured their first soccer state championship.
"We have sweated and hurt and bled for this," Mele said. "This was our destiny – just like the Saints winning the Super Bowl."
Indeed, it was a dominating performance throughout for Northlake (24-4-2).
Ben Franklin (12-7-1) was in possession most of the night, but had only four shots on goal. First-year Falcons Coach Grant Guthrie said he felt it was in large part to a case of championship nerves.
"We've had a great season, but unfortunately tonight we showed up and decided not to play," he said. "We didn't put on the ground, which is how we play and how we've gotten here. I think we got a little too excited. We'll learn from this, and we'll move forward."
The Falcons might have made more of a match had Franklin forward Vanja Popovic been able to win a couple of his one-on-one matchups with Mele. At least four times in the first half, Mele denied Popovic setting up for a shot, once when he appeared to have the ball centered from close range and a second time when Mele came from a step back to kick it away just as Popovic was about to deliver a shot from about 20 yards out.
"He was in my back pocket the entire game," Popovic said. "He played me tight and it took me out of the game."
That, Mele said, was the idea.
"I like to play it old school – very physical," said Mele. "I knew how great a player Pop is, so I played him straight up and aggressive. If he got past me, he had a good chance to score, and I wasn't going to let him do that."
In the second half, with a 2-0 lead, Mele got more help, chiefly from Chad Broussard and Zach Shaw.
Finally, in the closing minutes, Shaw, yet another Northlake freshman, got the final goal on a penalty kicked started by Acosta, who passed to Cam Broussard, who fed Shaw for the easy shot.
"We just drew that up in practice yesterday," Shaw said. "We knew if we got the chance to try it, it would work."
Lopez' opening goal wasn't anything planned, but it also worked out.
"They had everybody shifted to the right side of the goal and I was lucky enough it came off of Cam and right to me," he said. "It was the greatest feeling I've ever had."
"I was a nervous wreck tonight," Chetta said. "We were playing a great team, but I had the confidence that our kids would perform, and they did."