Geovanni Villalobos had trouble holding back the tears.
The rookie soccer coach's Natomas Nighthawks had come so far and learned so much this season in repeating as Sac-Joaquin Section D-III boys soccer champions today at Cosumnes Oaks High School.
"These boys, all the credit goes to them because there were a lot of doubters, and the odds were stacked against them," Villalobos said after Natomas (10-6-2) defeated Placer 1-0 on Adrian Revelez' first-half goal from an assist by Juan Mendoza. "We sneaked into the playoffs, but I knew we'd be dangerous."
Natomas finished third to Yuba City and Inderkum in the Tri-County Conference and entered the postseason with a pedestrian 6-6-2 record.
"We've always played nice soccer, but this year we were really inexperienced," Villalobos said. "We were controlling games, but things weren't going our way."
In the postseason, the Nighthawks beat Foothill 3-2 in overtime, Vallejo 3-1 on PKs after trailing 1-0 with four minutes to play in regulation and Rio Americano 2-1 in the semifinals.
Villalobos credited center midfielderes Ismael Ruiz and Luis Romo for orchestrating Natomas passing and possessing game.
"They are small guys - 4 feet 10 or something like that," Villalobos said, smiling. "But when a lot of people get carried away with heigth and speed, we play to our strengths, with ball movement and speed."
Villalobos played four seasons for coach Joe Rebelo and the Nighthawks, then was Rebelo's assistant for four years until Rebelo's retirement at the end of last season's section title run.
"Geovanni is such a great young coach," said Rebelo, who was among the Natomas rooters. "I left the program in good hands."
This was the first appearance for Placer (20-1-4) in a section boys soccer final.