MODESTO — This was a familiar sight for Central Valley soccer fans.
Cousins Alex and Kurtis Bettencourt strode onto the pitch together, virtually step for step, exchanging only a glance before the start of Tuesday afternoon's Big 8 Conference match.
Then things got weird.
Alex, dressed in Modesto Pirate blue from head to toe, stepped to one side of the midfield stripe and readied himself for kickoff.
Kurtis, the younger of the two, fitted in Delta's gold and black kit, settled opposite him.
Teammates at Hilmar High for so long and family forever, Tuesday's showdown between Modesto Junior College and Delta divided one of the area's preeminent soccer duos.
"That was a first," said Kurtis, following a 2-1 loss that remained in doubt until the final whistle.
The Bettencourt boys, cheered on by a small gathering along the tree line at MJC's West Campus, didn't disappoint.
Alex scored the decisive goal in the 71st minute, goalie Alonso Lara had three saves and Modesto stole the season series from its regional rival. Modesto (10-4-4) is 3-1-2 in Big 8 play and breathing a little easier now that Delta (8-7-2, 1-3-2) is off its schedule. The clubs drew 1-1 in their first meeting on Sept. 25.
"They're strong. They really pressured us," Modesto coach Joe Michelena said, his eyes as big as Gobstoppers. "The fact that we had that 15 minutes of attack and those good looks on goal -- that was the difference."
Eduardo Chin gave the Pirates the lead in the 62nd minute, redirecting a free kick from Jesse Tejada with his head. Nine minutes later, Alex tattooed his third goal of the season into the upper right-hand corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.
"It was nice to put that one away," said Alex, who hadn't scored since a two-goal effort in a 6-0 victory against Butte on Sept. 28. "It happened so fast. As soon as I found some space, I decided to have it."
Alex settled a cross from Augusto Tijerino more than 30 yards off frame, with enough space and time to plot out his attack.
"I could have taken him on," Alex said of his defender. "The funny thing is that at practice (on Monday) we were hitting all our shots on that side of the field."
Then Tuesday's deep blast was nothing more than a heat check. Alex touched the ball to his right foot and thumped a shot past goalie Jose Andrade.The win wasn't certain, though, not with Kurtis creating havoc in the final 20 minutes.
The freshman midfielder drew a yellow card following a tussle along the MJC end line and assisted on Delta's only goal -- a one-hop cross to a streaking David Molina in the 86th minute.
Molina's volley from just inside the penalty area was by Lara in the blink of an eye.
Delta outshot its hosts 10-5, including 8-4 in the second half as the 'Stangs attacked in waves down the flanks.
"We knew we'd eventually break through," Kurtis said. "We kept pounding and pounding. Something had to give."
Delta thought it had the equalizer in the final minutes on another cross from Kurtis, but Masiel Morales' volley was high.
"That was fun, but I'm glad I didn't have to guard him," Alex said of his cousin. "He's tough."
That the two ended up on opposite sides was the match's most compelling story line.
Alex and Kurtis starred together at Hilmar High from 2008-11, compiling a 32-7-2 record in Western Athletic Conference play.
Alex was the Yellowjackets' point man. He had 55 goals and 32 assists in those three seasons.
Kurtis, on the other hand, was 'Jacket-of-all-trades. He played goalie. He played the field. He even kicked for the Hilmar football team, booting a pair of 40-yard field goals in last fall's Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 championship game. His 41-yarder was the difference in Hilmar's stunning 20-17 win over Escalon, then a reigning state champion.
In fact, Kurtis' big right foot is the reason for the separation.
Delta men's soccer coach Jordan Ferrell and football coach Gary Barlow conspired to get the most out of Kurtis' talents. He kicks soccer balls throughout the week and footballs on Saturday.
"I'm just happy he's playing," Michelena said, "but knowing that he's from Hilmar and knowing I could have had both (Bettencourts) here ... it has definitely crossed my mind."