SANTA ANA PUEBLO — The Los Lunas boys soccer program doesn’t have much in the way of a championship pedigree, but when Eraclio Chavez took over as head coach two years ago, he knew he might have something special on his hands.
It didn’t take the Tigers long to realize Chavez’s expectations. Fourth-seeded Los Lunas completed its run through the Class 4A boys bracket with a 2-1 triumph over No. 2 Los Alamos at the complex on Friday. It was the Tigers’ first state championship since 1983, when it competed in a Class 3A populated by very few soccer programs.
“You can see a good program when you see the progression of it. This group of guys is very special,” Chavez said. “When I first got here last year, I knew I could do something magical with them. I really did.”
Indeed, Los Lunas (19-3-1) needed some late magic to claim its blue trophy. The Tigers struck first when Bryan Tarango converted a penalty kick in the 31st minute. The 1-0 lead held up through most of the game, even after the Tigers were forced to play shorthanded when Jordan Arballo received a red card late in the second half.
Credit goalkeeper Pablo Zarraga for fending off numerous attacks on the Tigers net throughout the day, an effort that earned him repeated “MVP” chants from the Los Lunas contingent. Not bad for a player who began the season as a forward but switched positions for an opportunity to earn more playing time.
“I’m just impressed with him wholeheartedly,” Chavez said. “He went to practice, worked very hard. I think he’s gonna be an All-State first-team selection.”
Zarraga didn’t have any answers for what happened in the 77th minute, when a scramble near the Los Lunas goal resulted in an unfortunate handball call on the Tigers. Syler Sylvester calmly converted the ensuing penalty kick, and the game was tied. Considering that the Hilltoppers were slated to play the rest of the way with an extra player, the Tigers’ fate seemed to be sealed.
Instead, there was a little more magic left for the Tigers. Shortly after the penalty kick, Tarango sliced through the Los Alamos (17-6) defense with great urgency, scoring the decisive goal in the 78th minute.
“Our top scorer (Arballo) was out because of an unfortunate red. I figured I had to step up and try to get our team to win a state championship,” Tarango said. “I don’t know. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to score the winning goal.”
Moments after being granted a new lease on life, the Hilltoppers could only look on in stunned silence as Los Lunas celebrated. It was a great time for the Tigers to end a championship drought, as they will most likely be moving up to Class 5A for all sports during the 2020-21 campaign.
“It’s just meant to be,” Chavez said. “We have a man down; we moved everybody back to play a more defensive part of the game. We didn’t want to not attack, either.
“I knew he was gonna bust open on a breakaway and do that. And it was a left- footed shot, so it’s amazing.”
NO. 4 LOS LUNAS 2, NO. 2 LOS ALAMOS 1
Los Lunas 1 1—2
Los Alamos 0 1—2
Scoring: LL, 31st, Bryan Tarango (penalty kick); LA, 77th, Syler Sylvester (penalty kick) LL, 78th, Tarango. Shots: LL 17; LA 4. Saves: LL 2; LA 1. Corner Kicks: LL, 8; LA 4. Rec.: LL 19-3-1; LA 17-6.