STOCKTON — There were handshakes before the game and handshakes afterward. But in the 80 minutes between, Patterson and Hilmar exchanged shots, hips, elbows and verbal jousts — perhaps not play befitting a Sac-Joaquin Section title match but play anticipated from two league and West Side rivals playing for the fourth time this season.
Patterson was the calmer of the teams Saturday afternoon, a major factor in its 3-1 victory for the Division 5 title at Lincoln High — the Tigers' first section crown since winning back-to-back titles in 2001-02.
The teams had gone 1-1-1 in head-to-head matches this season, with some bad blood brewing along the way. With that as a backdrop, Patterson coach Greg Hartsell and Hilmar Coach Louie Bettencourt addressed their teams before play about the importance of maintaining that fine line between clean and aggressive play.
"We knew it would be an aggressive game and we talked to the players before the game because we wanted to start and finish the game with 11 players on the field," Hartsell said.
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Patterson gathered three yellow cards for over-aggressive play, but Hilmar picked up two red cards and finished with nine players on the field. Both reds, however, came in the final nine minutes after Patterson scored its third goal.
"We have to learn to keep our emotions to ourselves because we let them get to us," Bettencourt said. "You have to be able to take the punches. We didn't get a lot of breaks from the referees — sometimes you're lucky that way and sometimes you're not."
Hilmar actually got the first big break, scoring on Jason Pedro's direct kick from the right wing in the 19th minute. Instead of building on the goal, the Yellowjackets allowed the equalizer just four minutes later when Raphael Sotelo scored on a rebound goal.
"We were looking good and then they tied it us, but the second goal was the killer," Bettencourt said. "It was a little mistake that they converted. We made a few more mistakes than they did."
That go-ahead goal came in the 53rd minute when a free kick from the right side was allowed to bounce through the goal mouth. Polo Rangel was there to flick the ball into the left side for a 2-1 lead.
Patterson iced the win in the 65th minute. With Hilmar loading the offense, a long clearing pass from the top of the box was controlled by Gustavo Molina 40 yards out. He dribbled to the right and lofted a 20-yard shot past the goalkeeper for the two-goal margin.
Aggressive became chippy after that goal, with a brief shoving match breaking out six minutes after the score.
"It was a crazy game ... insane out there," said Patterson goalkeeper and captain Luis Torres. "We know how they play and they knew how we play. We knew they would come out and be very aggressive against us so the key was to stay calm and play smart."
Despite the raw nerves, the coaches were able to get all players composed enough to go through a very civil postgame handshake line.
"Us coaches do what we can do to keep the players focused, but our team captains on the field really did the better job of that," Hartsell said. "When those words come from your peers, they mean a little more."
And it also means a little more when a section title, against a long-time rival, comes with a senior-laden group that has been building for this very moment for three years.
"I'm very happy and very sad because I'm losing a lot of players I've had since they were freshmen," Hartsell said. "This is very emotional."
Staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.