The heavens above U.S. Cellular Community Park on Monday morning offered something that felt like a second chance to Rogue Valley Soccer Club Fuego player Taylor Griggs.
Seemingly unaware of Sunday's murky presentation, the sky on Monday was clear and open.
It was like a clean slate, a chance framed against a weightless reef of clouds.
What began as a perfect day of opportunity for the local collection of soccer standouts ended as an exercise in determination — one that concluded with arms and a brilliant Rogue Valley Cup championship trophy raised skyward in celebration after the Fusion eked out a 5-3 victory over Eastside FC Red Kova in the U19 boys title contest.
"Second chances don't come around very often in life," Fuego head coach Kevin Primerano said. "When you get them you have to seize the moment. They certainly did that today."
The win was gratifying on a number of levels for the RVSC team. The Fusion lost to the Bellevue, Wash., squad 2-1 on Sunday; none of the Fusion players have ever captured a Rogue Valley Cup championship; the RVSC squad needed an inspirational effort to simply reach the finals and, for a second straight day, trailed by a goal late against Red Kova.
But Griggs and his teammates were ready to make good on their do-over, eager to cash in on their second chance.
With his team trailing by a goal and seven minutes remaining in regulation, the Grants Pass senior netted the equalizer in the battle between State Cup victors. Griggs then put the Fusion ahead 3-2 during the 13th minute of the 30-minute OT session.
Fuego's Harrison Leep (a St. Mary's junior) and Jason Kellogg (a Hidden Valley senior) scored their squad's final two goals and the RVSC team's defense fought off several Bellevue attacks to secure the Cup.
Adding to Fuego's tale of tenacity, the local club trailed 1-0 and 2-1 in the physical, emotional tilt.
"To see the boys with their backs to the wall and fighting back and staying the course, I don't know if you can be involved in a single game that was more special," Primerano said.
Phoenix midfielder Jose Mancias spotted Griggs — the Southern Oregon Hybrid player of the year — with just minutes to spare in regulation, setting up the scoring threat's 18-yard goal.
"He can find anybody and get it on a dime," said Griggs, who joined the squad in March after Grants Pass teammate Kevin Wilcox encouraged him to participate. Griggs had not played in the Cup since he was an eighth-grade student. "I gave him one of those eyebrows-up looks and then made that run to the middle. He chipped it over the top and then I ended up controlling the ball, luckily through the keeper's legs, and shot it."
Earlier, Chace Carlson put Red Kova on the scoreboard fast, netting a goal in the third minute.
Fuego's Jesus Solorio (a North Medford junior) responded in the 52nd minute, snaking past a gang of defenders and spinning in a seemingly impossible shot near a corner of the field.
"I don't know how I made it," said Solorio, who was lined up horizontally with the goal. "I just knew I had to put it in and I did." Gavin Mackinlay gave Bellevue a 2-1 lead in the 62nd minute. Later, Casey Oltman scored in the 118th minute to cut Fuego's deficit to a goal in OT.
"It is one of those things," Bellevue head coach Mark Kovats said. "Hot day, 90-minute game. They got the better of us today."
Fuego needed to defeat RVSC Sexy Can I by at least three goals on Sunday to clinch the championship berth. Primerano's squad jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening 11 minutes and won 8-0.
"That win shows we work hard," Solorio said. "If we want to win it, we have to fight for it. That is how we've made it."
Griggs had a pair of near scores to kick off the extra-minutes session on Monday. After a deflection, Solorio chipped a through ball to him, creating a one-on-one opportunity. Griggs' shot strayed just wide left. Minutes later, he was stopped on an open-field chance.
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh left foot, come on, put it in the back of the net,'" Griggs said.
Griggs found redemption around the 103rd minute, when he followed up on a Harrison shot attempt that was stopped by Bellevue's goalkeeper and tapped in the loose ball to provide Fuego a 3-2 advantage.
Using an Ian Murray through ball, Harrison blasted in goal from just outside the Red Kova 18-yard line a few minutes later.
After Oltman's goal, Harrison drew a penalty kick and Kellogg took and made the shot a couple of minutes later.
Eventually, the heated contest that saw five yellow cards concluded, and a new champion was crowned.
"We were all like, 'This is our year, we are all going off to separate colleges and we are all going to play soccer or do something else so we need to win it before we all go away,'" Griggs said.
Winning goalkeeper Connor Ginder (a North Medford junior) turned in a complete-match effort.
"He did an absolutely amazing job," Griggs said of Ginder. "He probably stopped three one-on-ones and had to stop two amazing shots that they had. He was phenomenal."
Griggs had been on a Rogue Valley Cup hiatus for several years. Returning to club play this year, he assisted in Fuego's Oregon State Cup championship run earlier this month and will next help lead the squad at the Region 4 championships in Boise, Idaho, in June. At stake will be a berth in July's national competition in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Class 6A first-team all-state selection said he has fallen back in love with the sport.
"As soon as basketball ended I got back into soccer," said Griggs, who is set to attend Oregon State University in the fall.
As he watched spectators fill the stands at U.S. Cellular Community Park on Monday — with that calm sky looking down on them, offering light, warmth and what felt like hope to Griggs — the 18-year-old knew it was the perfect day for a second chance.
"This morning, we are always joking around, and we had that joking-around tension, but you could see in everyone's eyes we wanted to play soccer today," he said.
In the girls U19 championship match, the Rogue Valley Soccer Club Fusion defended its 2010 Rogue Valley Cup title in thrilling fashion, edging the Southern Oregon Scrubs 2-1 in overtime.
Mazama's Karena Faust netted the game-winning goal during the seventh minute of the 30-minute OT session for the Fusion, which also captured the U17 title in 2009.
Fusion's Riley Smith tied things at 1 in the 57th minute on a 20-yard lob over Southern Oregon's goalkeeper. The Ashland senior scored the game-winning goal against Nevada Pride in last year's U19 championship.
"It was a great victory," said Fusion head coach Phil Littleton, whose team lost several members when players decided to join the Scrubs.
Rebekah Nisbet gave Southern Oregon a 1-0 lead about 30 minutes into the contest.
The Scrubs topped the Fusion 1-0 on Saturday.
"It was great to come back and win," Littleton added. "It was probably the best victory our team has experienced."
Jenna George (Cascade Christian) recorded a complete-game effort between the pipes for the RVSC squad.
The Fusion has had a tremendous run of success — together, the team has won the Las Vegas Mayor's Cup, Oregon State Cup and now the Rogue Valley Cup. Fusion will next participate at the Region 4 championships — which will feature teams from 13 other states — in Boise in June. At stake will be a berth in July's national competition in Phoenix, Ariz.
U10 — RVSC Future Stars White 2, SMSC Green Lightning 0
U11 — RVSC Inferno 2, RVSC Force 1
U12 — RVSC Impact 3, FC Willamette Paragon 2
U13 SILVER — SSC Reno Rattlers 1, ASC Supernova 0
U13 GOLD — FC Somoa Humboltz 3, RVSC Surge 1
U14 — GPYSC Storm 1, LOSC Royals 0
U16 — RVSC Reign United 2, RVSC Power Strikers 1
U17 — OSSA White Hurricanes 1, GPYSC United 0
U19 — Fusion 2, Scrubs 1
U10 — Redding Missfits United 2, RVSC Future Stars Red 0
U11 — RVSC Rage 2, SMSC Storm 1
U12 — GPYSC Force 2, Nevada Elite FC 0
U13 SILVER — RVSC Strikers 2, SSSC Lady Jaguars 1
U13 GOLD — FC Willamette Primetime 4, SSSC Nevada Primetime 3
U14 — RVSC Venom 3, RVSC Blackhawks 1
U16 — THUSC Platinum by forfeit
U17 — North Valley United 2, RVSC Rogue FC 1
U19 — GPYSC Nitro 2, Missfits 0
U10 — RVSC Matadors 2, BUSC Tsunami 1
U11 — SMSC Strikers 2, RVSC United 1
U12 — SMSC Strikers 4, MRYSL United 0
U13 — EMFC Boca Juniors 3, MRU United 1
U14/15 — THUSC Cobalt 3, MUFC Mutiny 1
U16/17 — SOSA Los Pumas 3, BUSC Team swag 1
U19 — RVSC Fuego 5, Eastside FC Red Kova 3
U10 — MRU United 5, RVSC Ducks 0
U11 — MRU Fuente Force 5, MUFC Mutiny 2
U12 — RVSC Nitro 7, ASC Spartans 1
U13 — SSSC Jaguars 4, GPYSC Torrent 2
U14/15 — RVSC Manchester United 1, EMFC Gunners 0
U16/17 — RVSC Barcelona 2, Tahoe United 1
U19 — RVSC Centaurs 2, RVSC Thundercats 0
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com