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Bulldogs knock off Hawks, qualify for playoffs
Ceres High School's varsity boys soccer team spoiled Central Valley's bid for a second-consecutive unbeaten regular season.

The host Bulldogs posted a surprising 2-1 victory over the 2011 Western Athletic Conference champion Hawks on Wednesday.

"We were the underdogs," Ceres High head coach Koeurn Phe said. "They were destined to go undefeated. We stopped them. We shocked a lot of people tonight."

The Bulldogs (13-5-1, 9-3-0) finished second in league and qualified for the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

The Hawks (18-1-1, 10-1-1) earned their fourth-straight conference title and fifth-consecutive postseason berth.

Livingston (17-5-4, 8-3-1) was awarded the WAC's third and final playoff spot.

Ceres High snapped Central Valley's 22-game, conference unbeaten streak. The Hawks had no losses during their previous 36 regular-season games.

"They played really well," Central Valley star striker Daniel Ochoa said. "They stepped up their game a lot. We thought it was going to be an easy game. We had too much confidence. Hopefully, we meet in the playoffs."

Bulldog fullback Rafael Mercado converted a penalty kick and helped shut down Ochoa, who tallied 36 goals through the Hawks' first 19 games.

"It was pretty hard but I did it," Rafael said while talking about his defensive assignment. "Danny's a talented player."

Freddy Arana accounted for Ceres High's second goal.

Bulldog goalkeeper Abel Reyes had seven saves.

Daniel Hernandez scored for Central Valley.

The Bulldogs jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Mercado drilled a PK down the middle of the goal late in the first half.

Arana scored from close-range in the 63rd minute off a long throw-in by Ceres High teammate Jose Saldivar.

Hernandez's 20-yard free kick cut the deficit to 2-1 with 11 minutes to play. He lofted the ball over a wall of Bulldog defenders and past Reyes.

"I'm satisfied with how my team played," Mercado said. "There was a lot of pressure. We came out and showed we were not nervous. I thought they were going to beat us. I'm not going to lie."

Ceres High had to play its last three games of the WAC season shorthanded because several starters failed to maintain academic eligibility.

Coach Phe implemented a defensive-minded game plan against the Hawks.The Bulldogs used a 5-4-1 formation.

"Every single player played with passion," Phe said. "They were determined."

Ceres High players piled onto each other as fans stormed the field at Bulldog Stadium following the game.

Ochoa and his Hawk teammates held their own celebration nearby. Central Valley finished ahead of Ceres High in the league standings. The Hawks successfully defended their WAC title.

The two sides faced off near midfield and engaged in friendly trash talking before heading home after last week's contest.

"It feels good having the support of the fans," said Mercado, who raised his arms in the air while sitting atop the shoulders of friend Cristian Espinoza.

Ceres High eliminated Patterson from the playoff race. The two teams would have been forced to play a play-in game for the WAC's final postseason berth had the Bulldogs lost.

"This is the type of win you want to have at the end of the season," Phe said. "This win gives us a lot of confidence. We got momentum."

Central Valley will face Sierra Valley Conference No. 3 seed Galt in the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday, Nov. 8 in Ceres. The game will begin at 3 p.m.

Ceres High will play host to Valley Oak League runner-up Sierra.