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SANTA ANA PUEBLO — By all rights, the kick, and the moment, should have belonged to Luca Seazzu.
Instead, he ceded the stage to Carlos Gutierrez — who stylishly delivered another boys state soccer championship to Albuquerque High School.
“Carlos shines in the big moments,” said Seazzu, AHS’ captain.
Gutierrez’s penalty kick goal in the 77th minute was the ultimate tiebreaker as the top-seeded Bulldogs edged No. 2 La Cueva 3-2 in an exciting Class 6A final Saturday at the complex on the Santa Ana Pueblo.
AHS (19-1-1) won its second blue trophy in three seasons and avenged a loss to the Bears (16-1-4) in last year’s championship game.
At the end, AHS’ fate — and La Cueva’s — was placed on the gifted right foot of Gutierrez, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer.
“We knew that was going in,” AHS coach Lucien Starzynski said. “One hundred percent.”
Only moments earlier, La Cueva’s Chris Manning had banged in a PK of his own in the 74th minute to square this game at 2-2. Then, several of the Bulldogs most integral pieces combined to produce this dramatic game-winner.
It started with goalkeeper Jose Sevilla, who was brought forward near the center line to take a direct kick. His big leg sent it high into the box, where Seazzu was fouled. Seazzu could have opted to take the penalty himself. He chose to yield to Gutierrez.
“Who better to give it to than Carlos?” Seazzu said with a 1,000-watt smile. “I knew he would put it away.”
And he did, high into the corner and out of the reach of La Cueva goalkeeper Anthony Muñoz.
“It’s beautiful,” Gutierrez said as he reflected on the Bulldogs’ accomplishment. “I’m not shocked, but still somewhat surprised.”
It was La Cueva’s first outright loss since Sept. 8 of last year — which was also to Albuquerque High.
“It was really sweet,” Gutierrez said. “We remember what happened last year, and we came back even stronger.”
When this one was over, the biggest cheer was elicited by … well, a mutual kissing of heads. Principal Tim McCorkle kissed Starzynski’s head — just as he did after AHS won state two years ago.
But this time, the deal included Starzynski smooching McCorkle’s head, too. The players roared their approval.
“I think this team embodies a culture at Albuquerque High,” Starzynski said later “Of belief, of success, of passion.”
AHS had two leads in this showdown. Gutierrez supplied the game’s first goal, largely the result of footwork and bravery. He took a La Cueva defender wide, then wider, and was left with a shallow angle, but he still somehow fired a shot past Muñoz in the 34th minute.
The Bears tied the game late in the half. Marco Monetti’s shot kissed off the left post, danced along the goal line briefly, then curled into the net for a 1-1 game at halftime.
Rado Josoa put the Bulldogs back in front midway through the second half. It was almost preordained in a deal he struck earlier this week with Gutierrez, who supplied the assist.
“If he wanted to, he could have (gotten) the hat trick, but he knew how much it meant to me to be on the scoring sheet,” Josoa said. “We practice combination plays at practice, and we finally executed it tonight.”
On the Manning PK that tied it, he was the second shooter. Hunter Esquibel pounded it home past Sevilla, but it is believed a La Cueva player stepped into the box prior to the kick. La Cueva was forced to try a second one and Bears coach Easy Jimenez had Manning take that try.
“We had a great year,” Jimenez said. “And it was a great team. I couldn’t ask any more from the guys. My heart’s full.”
ALBUQUERQUE HIGH 3, LA CUEVA 2
La Cueva 1 1 — 2
AHS 1 2 — 3
Scoring: AHS, 34th, Carlos Gutierrez (Luca Seazzu); LC, 39th, Marco Monetti (Chris Manning); AHS, 60th, Rado Josoa (Gutierrez); LC, 74th, Manning (PK); AHS, 77th, Gutierrez (PK). Shots on goal: LC 5; AHS 9. Saves: LC, Anthony Muñoz 4; AHS, Jose Sevilla 4. Corners: LC 7; AHS 7. Records: AHS 19-1-1; LC 16-1-4.