BELLINGHAM - Nearly 366 full days had passed since Sehome's Sam Diehl was forced to helplessly watch his Mariners fall to city-rival Bellingham on April 11, 2013.
His ankle snapped midway through the match, ending his junior season and relegating him to the sidelines where he watched his team fail to make the playoffs, that loss being a defining nail in the casket.
And as bitter a pill as that was, his curving free kick in the 13th minute past Bellingham's keeper Logan Schilder offered him the solace he so longingly sought since that day a year ago. It just so happens that same kick also gave Sehome just enough to get past the Red Raiders, 1-0, in a Northwest Conference match on Thursday, April 17, at Civic Stadium.
"I had the free kick in the first half that kind of put away the game," Diehl said. "It was great. ... Bellingham is always close."
The magnitude of the win for Sehome and loss for Bellingham could be felt weeks down the road when the regular season comes to an end. Currently, both the Mariners (6-2-3, 4-2-1 NWC) and Red Raiders (5-2-4, 4-2-1 NWC) are battling for the fourth and final slot in the 2A division, with Sehome now holding the tie-breaker after defeating Bellingham.
That fact wasn't lost on either coach.
"We needed this one really, really bad," Sehome coach John Sylvester said. "We played harder. We played with more heart than we have all season in this game."
Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis added: "We know we're on the outside looking in, and that's on us."
Diehl's free kick, as he and both Zigulis and Sylvester reiterated, was indefensible.
There was nothing Schilder could do, watching the ball curve around the wall of Red Raiders into the far side of the net.
"I scored against Squalicum by going underneath the wall, and I was like 'Let's try that again,' but I saw the far post was wide open and I just kind of whip curled it and it just nicked the post right in," Diehl said. "No one was close. The goalie didn't have a chance."
And yet his brilliance wasn't confined to just that play.
"This is one of the best games I've ever seen a center back play," said Sylvester, his assistant coach, Caleb Buck, nodding in agreement. "Not only was he a great leader and played flawless defense and helped the rest of the players play flawless defense, but he scored that magnificent free kick. ... He was really the heart and soul of the team today."
For two teams heralded for their abilities on defense, one goal was what made all the difference. Zigulis, who has been in search of offense all season out of his young Red Raiders squad, said his team isn't afforded the luxury of opening flat.
And although Bellingham did have a chance in the 61st minute off a free kick from Keegan Nutt that offered a dangerous opportunity, it was just like all the rest: neutralized. Bellingham pressed in the final five minutes, possessing the ball in Sehome's half more than it did the previous 75 minutes, but nothing was made as Diehl and the young Mariners backline continued to hold the Red Raiders at bay.
"They weren't able to get anything going today," Sylvester said. "We just knew we had to really keep hitting them heavy. I'm talking about clean, but just really getting in their face and getting in the way, making nothing easy."
Bellingham's Noe Betancourt-Cruz, who has possibly proved to be Zigulis' most dangerous striker, couldn't break lose for any legitimate tries, a testament to the game plan Sehome put together.
On the other hand, Sehome, which has had its struggles this season finding the net, had several missed opportunities that could have made this game far less tense at the end. None were more promising than when Conor McGovern got a near-open look in the 38th minute off a deflection from Schilder 2 yards from the net. He sent it wide left outside the reach of the 6-foot-10 keeper, raising his hands afterward realizing the chance he had at his feet.
Schilder himself was called into action quite often, making seven saves, several of which were diving efforts that kept the Red Raiders within striking distance. But the loss was a testament to the fact that against good opposition, a momentary lapse in concentration can mean all the difference, Zigulis said.
"It looked like we were jet-lagged," he said. "It took us a goal to wake us up, unfortunately, and we couldn't get it back. That's soccer. That's the way it goes."
Bellingham's road doesn't get much easier when it faces Sedro-Woolley Monday night at Civic Stadium. The Cubs are slotted second in the NWC after a 2-0 loss to Squalicum. Sehome, which was also in action Monday, will face Blaine to try to further distance itself from the Red Raiders into that fourth and final spot.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
SEHOME 1, BELLINGHAM 0
Goal: Sam Diehl (Sehome); Assist: NA; Time: 13:00. Shots on goal: Bellingham: 5; Sehome: 14; Saves (goalies); Bellingham: Logan Schilder 7; Sehome: Devin Trueb 3.