SANTA ANA PUEBLO — The smallest Bulldog had the mightiest bark on Friday afternoon.
And in the process, he helped Albuquerque High’s boys soccer program author the perfect ending to a perfect season.
Sophomore forward Christian Nava, who barely stands 5 feet tall, struck for a pair of goals within two minutes of each other in the second half, and those goals propelled the top-ranked and top-seeded Bulldogs (21-0) to a 2-0 victory over No. 6-seeded Hobbs in the Class 5A state championship game.
AHS became the first boys side in New Mexico to finish a season without a loss or a tie since Sandia Prep in 2005. The Bulldogs are the first team in the largest classification to do it since Eldorado in 2001.
“I have to say,” veteran AHS coach Lucien Starzynski said, “that was probably one of the best games we’ve ever played in the state tournament. I thought we did everything we’ve wanted to do since early in the season in this game.”
It was Nava, the Bulldogs’ quick-footed dynamo, who electrified his school’s large crowd at the complex on the Santa Ana Pueblo with his trademark finishing flourishes.
“He’s brought that dynamic,” Starzynski said. “If you’re going to be a good team, you have to have that kind of player. I don’t think there are a lot of players in the state like him right now.”
Dylan Castillo centered to Nava in the box in the 53rd minute, and Nava wheeled his right leg onto the cross and pounded it home for the game’s first goal.
Two minutes later, senior Jared Moyers gave him another cross, and Nava headed this one home.
“Hell of a player,” Moyers said of Nava. “Great addition to our team this year.”
Nava played for West Mesa last season. Let him explain the shocking reason why he made a new home at Bulldog City.
“(Someone) had shot at our house,” he said. “My mom wanted us to get as far away as possible, so we came over here.”
He finished with more than 30 goals this season for AHS, which also captured blue trophies in 2015 and 2017.
“I don’t even have words to explain it,” Nava said sheepishly. “We played as a family, as a team, and we did it. We had our eyes on the prize every day, and here we are.”
So superb were these Bulldogs that only three of their 18 victories coming into state were even one-goal margins. And USA Today had them ranked No. 7 in the country at the start of this week.
But then the Bulldogs had to sweat out the previous two rounds, as they were pushed to overtime against La Cueva and Cleveland before winning late in the first OT in both games.
“It’s unbelievable, man,” said AHS sophomore midfielder Andres Robles. “We’ve been working all season for this. The grind is real. But this is the reward, and we’re pretty happy about this.”
The Eagles had several openings in the first half they couldn’t quite capitalize on, but it was AHS that had the better of the possession throughout, despite Hobbs’ best efforts in the first half.
“We just kept working, kept playing our game,” Robles said. “We knew the chances were gonna come.”
From the bench, Starzynski watched in awe.
“It’s always hard to produce (great soccer) in the moment, with the pressure and with what a final means,” Starzynski said. “I’m just astonished what these guys were able to produce. It was fantastic.”
For Hobbs, it was the final game for retiring coach Jose Mares. The Eagles hadn’t played in a state soccer final since 2000.
ALBUQUERQUE HIGH 2, HOBBS 0
Hobbs 0 0 — 0
AHS 0 2 — 2
Scoring: AHS, 53rd, Christian Nava (Dylan Castillo); AHS, 55th, Nava (Jared Moyers). Shots on goal: H 4; AHS 9. Records: AHS 21-0; H 17-6-1.