MODESTO — Downey High's 12-9 victory over rival Johansen was more than 10 minutes old and Sam Ciccarelli still was huffing and puffing.
"This is the best water polo game that we've played as a team all season," said Ciccarelli, whose team shares the Modesto Metro Conference title with the Vikings but earned the league's No. 1 playoff seed as a result of Friday's victory at MJC's Dave Ashleigh Aquatics Center. "Can't you tell? I'm still breathing hard."
Throughout the season, you couldn't put a cigarette paper between these teams. They each had one win against the other, by identical 8-7 scores. With 3 minutes, 37 seconds to play in the third quarter on Friday the score was you guessed it 8-7. Ciccarelli scored on the break with 39 seconds remaining and the game was knotted 8-8 heading into the final 7 minutes of action.
It stayed that way thanks to some impressive goalie work from Downey's Michael Hicks and Johansen's Michael Slyusarchuk.
"I just had to block those shots," Hicks said. "I knew that if something got past me ... it's the game."
Johansen started the overtime without two of its faster swimmers Kyle Christiansen and Mackenzie Muncrief were ejected with three major fouls.
"I knew this game was going to be close," said Johansen coach Erica Crain. "I didn't expect we'd be without two of our best players in overtime."
Once overtime started, the Knights wasted little time taking charge.
"I think the guys were just fired up and ready to do it," said Downey coach Tim Vesey. "I think we just wore them down a little."
Twenty-four seconds in, Jacob Schanen scored on a counter-attack, followed by countering goals from Nate Overholtzer and Zach Aaronson.
Johansen's Chase Cunha cut Downey's lead to 11-9 with 90 seconds remaining in the first 3-minute OT session. The scored stayed that way until Ciccarelli put in a 4-meter penalty shot with 72 ticks left.
Regardless of Friday's outcome, the MMC co-title was secure for Downey's boys, who had never won one in the 40 years the school's been playing water polo. Had the Knights lost, they'd have always known that Johansen had gotten the better of them.
"I think this validates the title," Hicks said. "It makes it more real.
"It's just crazy."