Every minute that passed without a goal in the 4A state quarterfinal soccer game between Highland and Pleasant Grove racheted up the intensity a notch.

Which adds up to a lot of intensity. Highland's Jesus Rodriguez scored the only goal of the game on a penalty kick with less than two minutes to play, advancing the Rams to Thursday's semifinals 1-0.

Rodriguez bent the penalty kick over a wall of Vikings and into the upper left corner of the goal to bring the Rams' record to 9-8-1, their first winning record this year.

The gray clouds hovering over Pleasant Grove's home turf didn't let loose with any rain during the game, but Highland coach Fode Doumbia got soaked anyway by players and fans who poured a Gatorade cooler of water on him in a victory celebration.

It wasn't the first time Doumbia has been drenched like that, "but I wish it happened all the time," he said.

At the start of the season, Highland didn't seem to have much to celebrate, starting with a 2-8-1 record, but the Rams seem to be peaking at the right time. They upset Spanish Fork 2-1 in double overtime in the first round.

Doumbia said Rodriguez might not have played his best game, but there was no question who was going to take the penalty kick.

Rodriguez lived up to his coach's confidence, burying the kick in the back of the net before Viking keeper Joey Webb could get there.

"They always put up a wall," Rodriguez said. "When you throw it over the wall, it's kind of hard for the goalie to see it. You see the ball when it's in the net."

Pleasant Grove coach Erik Bayles agreed that it was a great shot.

"You don't hit a better ball than that," he said.

What Bayles didn't agree with was the referee's call that set up Rodriguez's chance to end the game before overtime. Highland's Phillip Menezes was slide-tackled by a Pleasant Grove player while trying to work free to cross the ball to the middle on the play.

"I thought it was a fair, clean tackle," Bayles said. "I don't want to take away anything from Highland. We lost to a very good team, but I don't feel that a game that was played that well should be decided on that."

Tempers flared momentarily while Pleasant Grove tried to hurry back for a quick kick to give it a chance to tie in the waning moments, but it was too late for the Vikings.

The Rams started the season with a 1-8-1 record but have won eight straight to come steamrolling into the playoffs.

Doumbia said the team is coming together after its early stumbles.

"The problem is, if you look Îat the team, we have nine nationalities," he said. "At the beginning of the year we struggled with style, with personalities, with grades, because a lot of them are ESL students. It took us a while to straighten that all out."

Now that things have improved, Doumbia said it's great to finally be able to boast a winning record.

"It's wonderful," he said. "It's a good thing to prove to these kids that they can do it."

But Doumbia's not ready to stop yet: "The more we eat, the hungrier we get," he said.


E-mail: rburton@desnews.com