STERLING – Not every game-changing play in soccer ends with the ball in the net.
Gabriel Capilla's gutsy defensive gem served as powerful punctuation within a three-goal flurry early in the second half of Sterling's 6-0 victory over Geneseo on Thursday at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
The Golden Warriors' 14th straight victory wrapped up the regular season and a second straight Northern Illinois Big 12 West title.
After goals by Alfredo Lopez and Pedro Ocampo made it 2-0 Sterling, Capilla made a clean, textbook slide tackle of Geneseo midfielder Ethan Radue. It prevented an odd-man transition and made his coach proud.
"Throughout the years that these guys have been playing, we've talked about stealing momentum," Chris Interone said. "Every little shot you block, every little ball you steal, that's energy you take from the other team and transfer to your team. That was definitely a clutch play right there."
"Always being the last man, and always having to check who's behind me, I knew there was no one else to make the save," said Capillo, a senior defenseman. "I had to get up there. I had to make a split-second decision."
Fellow defenseman Diego Aguilar made it 3-0 Sterling about 4 minutes later, with 28:12 left to play. A nice cross by Ocampo was headed into the net by Geneseo's Zach Riffe with 16:04 left. Lopez joined Ocampo in the two-goal club 10 minutes later and Pedro's twin brother, Salomon, scored with 1:43 on a low shot goalkeeper Dylon Lyon couldn't handle.
Interone was anxious about the first half, his Warriors (19-2, 10-0) running into a stiff wind against bitter rival Geneseo (12-6-1, 8-2).
"We were fighting the elements, and I was hoping my guys wouldn't burn out their legs running against the wind," Interone said. "It would've been nice if we had a goal, but 0-0 was fine with me."
The Warrior faithful held their breath when Pedro Ocampo was taken down by Griffin Welfer along the right sideline, just outside the penalty box, with just under 10 minutes left in the first half. The physical tackle earned Welfer a yellow card, the first of three for the Maple Leafs.
"They've never liked us very much, and we don't like them very much," Pedro Ocampo said. "I saw him and I knew he was going to hit me; I think that was their gameplan – to try to get me out. I knew if I used a fancy move, I could get him off-balance and he'd push me. I guess I got it."
Ocampo was carried off, but was fortunate to only have suffered a bruise, on the outside of his left foot.
"I was worried it was broken," he said.
Lopez got Sterling on the board after making a breathtaking run from just inside midfield. He played the ball up to Bryan Gutierrez, who touched it back. Lopez split two defenders, picked up the ball just inside the box before moving right and tucking it inside the top-left corner with 36:45 to play.
Two minutes later, Pedro Ocampo scored on a penalty kick. He earned it by beating two defenders, spinning his way into the box with the ball on a string. Adam Stenzel took him down, and the dissenting Geneseo bench got a yellow card.
Both Lopez and Geneseo's Justin Seeley were given yellow cards 2 minutes later as the match's chippiness vamped.
"It is always a good game, and always physical," Lopez said. "They have almost the same style as us."
"We'll enjoy the conference title for the moment," Capilla said. "But we've still got regionals coming up then sectionals after. But yes, we're going to enjoy it for the moment."
Star of the match: Pedro Ocampo, Sterling, 2 goals, assist
Key performers: Alfredo Lopez, Sterling, 2 goals