Shackled by a shadow in midfield, Sacred Heart School – Ateneo de Cebu team captain Marco “Miggy” Queblatin switched to a striker’s position during their Central Visayas Regional Athletic Association (CVIRAA) football championship match Thursday morning against Bohol Province.

Queblatin, a midfielder, was told to prowl closer to the Bohol goal.

Shadowing is a defensive tactic where a player is assigned to mark or closely follow a dangerous attacker throughout the game. By moving Queblatin forward, his shadow was placed at an unfamiliar defensive space, said coach Ref Cuaresma, the football program head for SHS-Ateneo de Cebu, which represents Mandaue City. It also messed up with the Bohol defensive line.

It worked.

AGONY OF 2ND PLACE. A Bohol Province player covers his head as he cries at the final whistle of the CVIRAA 2024 football championship match as members of the winning SHS-Ateneo de Cebu celebrate.
AGONY OF 2ND PLACE. A Bohol Province player covers his head as he cries at the final whistle of the CVIRAA 2024 football championship match as members of the winning SHS-Ateneo de Cebu celebrate. Credit: Max Limpag / MyCebu.ph

Nine minutes into the second half, Ateneo staged a counter attack after containing yet another Bohol excursion into their defensive area. Their winger Jesse Garcia passed to William Barlow who then sent a cross to Queblatin.

Queblatin controlled the pass with his right foot and saw Bohol keeper John Lloyd Casiño “a bit forward.” The left-footed captain said he shot early with his left foot.

Casiño said the early shot caught him by surprise.

Had he taken more time, Queblatin told Rappler in an interview, the keeper would have been able to get into a better position to stop the ball. His shadow? Behind him as shadows are under a scorching early morning sun.

Queblatin scored his final CVIRAA goal and booked his team a slot in the Palarong Pambansa 2024 in July. The Ateneo captain is still in Grade 11 but he will age out in next year’s CVIRAA.

CHAMPIONS: The SHS-Ateneo de Cebu football team will play in the 2024 Palarong Pambansa after winning the CVIRAA 2024 championship.
CHAMPIONS. The SHS-Ateneo de Cebu football team will play in the 2024 Palarong Pambansa after winning the CVIRAA 2024 championship. Credit: Max Limpag / MyCebu.ph

After the goal, Ateneo instinctively tightened its defense to protect the single-point lead. Coaching staff had to yell instructions to their midfielders not to retreat as the Ateneo defenders were constricted in their movements and lacked room to maneuver.

With ten minutes or so left in the match, the Ateneo de Cebu bench huddled in a quarter circle as they nervously watched the game. But they weren’t hyping themselves up to get ready to celebrate at the final whistle. They were praying the rosary.

The night before, Ateneo players also prayed the rosary in a tightly fought semi-final game against last year’s champions Cebu City, a contingent that carried an image of the Sto. Nino and whose team moniker is Niños. Ateneo won in a penalty shootout.

In the championships, Ateneo beat a better team on paper. A month back, they lost 2-0 to the same Bohol Province squad in a friendly. That tactical shift was the key yesterday, Cuaresma said.

“It was tough for us because Ateneo is a traditional school and we prioritize academics,” said Cuaresma who was keeper for the Philippine national team that used to be called the Azkals. “We don’t always get to be complete in training.”

PRAYING. Substitute players of SHS-Ateneo de Cebu huddle and pray the rosary as they nervously watch the closing minutes of their championship match.
PRAYING. Substitute players of SHS-Ateneo de Cebu huddle and pray the rosary as they nervously watch the closing minutes of their championship match. Credit: Max Limpag / MyCebu.ph

“We were dreaming of this and I’ve been telling them, it’s not impossible. It’s not impossible,” Cuaresma said during the interview before choking up and crying, away from his players.

Near the entrance to the football field in the University of San Carlos in Talamban, a stunned Bohol team waited for their vehicle. Some were weeping, red-eyed, their tears dried up by the searing heat. It was high noon in the early morning, a game official said.

Casiño, looking exhausted, rued the shot that sent them home. Asked what he felt after the loss, the Grade 10 student answered, “naa pay sunod.” (There will be a next time.)

The keeper said he’ll be back in the next CVIRAA.

Max Limpag is a journalist, blogger, and developer based in Cebu. He started as a reporter covering Cebu City Hall in 1996. He has written on technology for various print and digital publications since...