MODESTO — Modesto High is about to wander into the most severe be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation offered by Sac-Joaquin Section soccer.
When the Modesto Metro Conference champion Panthers disposed of Woodcreek 3-1 in Tuesday's Division 1 first-round game, Modesto advanced to a second-round match on Thursday at top-seeded Jesuit the closest thing to a soccer dynasty this region has to offer.
So Modesto coach Matt Mendes chose his words carefully, making sure to be as respectful as possible to a program that doesn't need inspirational quotes tacked on it's bulletin board.
Instead of "We want Jesuit," or the more direct "Bring on Jesuit," Mendes tendered "It would be nice to match yourself up against a team that has established itself as the best. Our guys are excited about it, and it's nice to extend the season by a couple of days if not more."
The Panthers (14-6-5) earned the extra action with a dominant performance against the Timberwolves from Roseville (13-5-5,) spotting Woodcreek a goal in the opening minute before riding the 1-2 punch of Artemio Contreras and Julio Corona to victory.
Corona, who leads Modesto with 15 goals, got the equalizer in the 19th minute after a steal and a breakaway from midfield. He got the assist on the go-ahead goal nine minutes later when his shot deflected off the left post to Contreras, who tapped it home from point-blank range.
The two inadvertently worked together on the clinching goal in the 63rd minute. Corona, on another breakaway, was tackled from behind just outside the box. Contreras took the free kick, bending it around the left of Woodcreek's four-man wall into the upper right side of the net.
It was no accident that Corona and Contreras led the Panthers' offensive punch, since a coaching adjustment forced them to work together.
"That's only the second time we've paired those two and played Contreras high behind Corona," Mendes said. "Artemio holds the ball really well and it was a good partnership today."
Contreras, a junior, was happy to make the move, especially since it resulted in a rare postseason offensive show for Modesto. This is the fifth straight season the Panthers have reached the Division 1 playoffs, and they had scored a total of three goals in their previous four appearances, posting a 1-4 record.
"I usually play center-mid, and today coach pushed me up a little to help out Corona and it worked great," said Contreras, who added that playing Woodcreek earlier this season in a tournament final (losing 1-0) helped Modesto this time out.
"They play really physical and they're a good team, so we expected them to come out and play the same way today," he said. "We just played harder."
And faster. While Woodcreek was much larger physically, the Panthers had a decided advantage in speed, even on the bumpy surface of Modesto's home pitch loaned to them for the day by the football team, itself in the hunt for an MMC crown.
"We practiced on this field a couple times, so we got the hang of it," Contreras said. "It's not the best field, but it'll do."
And now comes the ultimate test for the Panthers. Jesuit not only is ranked No. 1 in the nation among boys' teams playing in the fall season (Central Valley of Ceres is No. 2) but it has appeared in 15 section title games since 1990, winning 10 times.
Jesuit beat Nevada Union 6-1 on Tuesday.
"Jesuit is the team to beat," Contreras said. "We know they're No. 1 in the state for a reason so we have to go out and work hard and play like we did today with some improvement."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek