By Chris McManes

Northwestern High School boys soccer coach Victor Ramirez is well aware of the program’s legacy of success. He added to it Nov. 20 when he led his alma mater to the school’s third state championship.

Northwestern players and staff celebrate the Wildcats’ 3-2 victory over Northwest for the 2021 Class 4A state championship.
Courtesy of Victor Ramirez

The Wildcats (12-2) won the Maryland Class 4A state title, 3-2, over Northwest High School by erupting for three second-half goals in five minutes of play and then relying on their defense. 

“Winning a state championship takes a lot of hard work, a little bit of luck and a great team,” Ramirez said. “I often thank my players for allowing me to be part of their journey. For the rest of their lives, they will be state champions.”

Playing on a chilly night at Loyola University Maryland, in Baltimore, Northwestern trailed 1-0 at halftime. The Wildcats got on the board in the 53rd minute when senior midfielder Josue Guzman scored off a pass from Jefferson Estrada. Fifty-six seconds later, Jonathan Argueta-Hernandes found Edenilson Acevedo, who scored from about eight yards out.

In the 59th minute,  after dancing around a defender, Guzman fired a 30-yard pass that David Villatoro headed in for his ninth goal of the season.

Josue Guzman was Northwestern’s leading scorer with 12 goals and 14 assists.
Courtesy of Fincham Photography.

“We came out strong in the second half,” Guzman said. “We were matching their energy and they had to match ours. I believe that our energy as a collective group is amazing.” 

Twelve seconds after Northwestern went up 3-1, Francis Sarpong scored to draw the Jaguars to within one. They had several opportunities to tie the contest, but junior goalie Luis Romero made several nice saves. Sarpong also had a shot that hit the right goal post.

Guzman displayed his defensive ability late when he, as part of a wall, blocked and cleared a free kick. With three minutes to go, he stole a ball on his team’s side of the field. 

Ramirez thinks Guzman is the best player in Maryland.

“He is the difference-maker, he is that ‘it’ factor,” he said. “He gives us that burst of confidence that no matter if we’re down, we’re going to come back and win. The kids feed off of him, his adrenaline, his voice in the locker room. They just have that confidence when Josue’s on the field.”

Guzman is expected to be named first-team All-Met. He led the Wildcats in goals (12), assists (14) and points (38). Villatoro was second in scoring with 22 points. Romero totaled 62 saves. 

Northwestern outscored its opponents, 37-16, and in The Washington Post’s final poll finished second. 

The Wildcats opened the year with a pair of shutouts before losing to High Point, 1-0, and Bowie, 2-1. After the Bowie loss, they closed with 10 consecutive victories. 

“I feel like that was our worst game ever,” Guzman said. “I told my teammates we’re not going to win anything if we keep performing like this. The next game, [a 2-1 win over Duval], we crushed it, and from there we haven’t lost.” 

Ramirez began thinking his team would be special after its first win over Parkdale, 2-1, on Oct. 14. 

“We were still working through some situations and trying to figure out where to best position our players,” he said. “We went up 2-0, and I think that’s where the kids really started to believe in themselves, that they could play with anyone.”

The Wildcats, seeded fourth in the eight-team state tournament, defeated top-seed Severna Park in the semifinals, 2-1, on Guzman’s overtime tally. Northwest (13-3-1) was the No. 2 seed. 

Northwestern won the 4A South Region 1 championship with victories over High Point and Parkdale. It downed Bethesda-Chevy Chase in overtime, 2-1, in the state quarterfinals. 

This was the Wildcats’ first state crown since 1995. The first came in 1973. That team was led by Nino Fleri and the Rada brothers (Gonzalo, Pedro and Fermin). Fleri scored both goals in Northwestern’s 2-1 finals victory over Dundalk. The game-winner came in double overtime when he headed in a crossing pass from Gonzalo Rada. 

The ’73 Wildcats finished 12-1-1 and won the school’s eighth-straight Prince George’s County championship. The ’95 squad was 14-4 and captured the title after Henry Garcia scored late in a 3-2 triumph over Perry Hall. 

Ramirez, who graduated from Northwestern in 1992, became the Wildcats’ head coach in 2016. He works as a lawyer and is a former state delegate and senator. He plans to run for county council in 2022. He played soccer under Tom Stickles, the man who led Northwestern to its first two state championships. 

“He made me believe that beyond the game, if you work hard and put in the effort, you will be successful in life,” Ramirez said. “I took what he gave me on the soccer field and applied it to other personal and professional parts of my life. 

“I hope that my players will realize that if they take the same effort and work ethic to other parts of their life that they will be successful.”

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) played baseball and soccer at Northwestern.