SAN JOSE – With two late goals that wiped out a one-goal deficit, the Branham boys soccer team pulled off a stunning comeback to defeat visiting Bellarmine 4-3 on Tuesday night at home in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division semifinals.
With the victory top-seeded Branham (18-1-3) increases its unbeaten streak to 21 games and the Bruins advance to the CCS Open Division championship game on Friday night at 7:30 pm at Del Mar against No. 2 seed Watsonville. Watsonville defeated St. Francis 1-0 in the other semifinal.
Branham was down 3-2 when junior Eli Derazizyan scored on a back heel in the 78th minute to tie it. Then senior Jesus Garcia completed his hat trick in the 80th minute for the game-winner with a shot into the lower left corner. The stands were packed at Branham and fans stormed the field in celebration after the victory.
Bellarmine came into the game as the three-time defending Open champions. One of those titles came at the expense of Branham when the Bells beat the Bruins 1-0 in the 2019 championship final.
The hosts came out strong and were able to keep the ball in Bellarmine's end for most of the first 20 minutes of the game. Bellarmine played a deep line and let Branham play the ball in the midfield but they weren't allowing much in the way of scoring chances. They Bells did an excellent job dealing with senior striker Ian Hutt.
Bellarmine had a great chance in the early going when Jack Werle got behind the Branham defense and banged a shot off the crossbar.
Branham took the lead in the 19th minute. Sophomore Sean Kim started the play with a long throw-in and the ball was headed back out to him by a Bellarmine defender. He then knocked it back into the middle, where senior Lucas Valente flicked it and Garcia was there for the finish with a header to make it 1-0.
Bellarmine came right back to tie it. The ball was played long to Werle, who used his strength to hold off a defender and then score from a few yards out to make it 1-1 in the 20th minute.
Bellarmine then took the lead just a couple of minutes later. The ball was played down the left side to Kavi Krishnan, who got behind the defense with his speed and slotted the ball in from a tight angle to make it 2-1 Bells in the 22nd minute.
The Bruins seemed stunned to give up two goals so quickly, but they managed to maintain their poise and settle down after that. Garcia tied the game 2-2 seven minutes into the second half with a free kick from 35 yards out.
“In a season full of highlight reel plays, that was definitely up there,” said Branham Coach Danny Kadah.
But once again, Bellarmine responded. Once again Krishnan and Werle were involved as Krishnan played the ball from the left side into the middle. The initial shot bounced to Werle and he scored his second of the night to make it 3-2 in the 52nd minute.
With less than 20 minutes left Branham went into a 3-4-3 with junior Ivan Marquez moving into the midfield and senior Lucas Valente pushing higher up the field. They also brought in Derazizyan as a third forward.
Branham finally broke through on a long throw-in from the left side in the 78th minute. Sean Kim threw the ball to Garcia, who flicked it to the middle. Valente won the next header and flicked it down. Derazizyan had his back to goal but coolly back-heeled the ball into the net to make it 3-3.
"This team is incredibly resilient and has shown the ability to overcome adversity time and time again,” Kadah said.
But that was only the beginning. Just a couple of minutes later, senior Emmanuel Denis found Garcia on the left side. He dribbled in and ripped a shot into the lower left corner just past the keeper to make it 4-3 in the 80th minute.
The victory in some respects avenges the 2019 defeat but for the Bruins there is still work to do on Friday night against Watsonville.
“We don't know much about Watsonville but we’ll try to gather up some intel in the next day or so,” said Kadah.
All four semifinalists have advanced to the NorCal playoffs which begin next week.