To no one’s surprise, the District 2-5A boys soccer race is headed to the final day of its regular season.
Will the NMAA handbook be needed to eventually sort things out?
“We figured it would be a jumble at the top like it is right now,” La Cueva coach Kevin Driggs said.
The team that positioned itself best is third-ranked Eldorado. The Eagles outlasted the second-ranked Bears 3-2 in penalty kicks Tuesday night. The teams tied 2-2 after regulation and overtime, with the Eagles winning the shootout 4-2.
While there remains a possibility of a three-way tie for first place between the Bears, Eagles and Sandia, Eldorado’s victory leaves it as the only one of the three that controls its destiny.
“It’s in our hands,” Eldorado coach Walt Witkowski said.
At 4-1 in district, the Eagles have a one-game lead over La Cueva and Sandia, which are both 3-2.
Eldorado plays Sandia on Thursday night, while La Cueva faces Manzano. An Eagles win would simplify everything in terms of unscrambling the logjam.
But nothing has been simple about this district, or surprising. When the state realigned the 5A districts and put these three soccer behemoths into the same league, it was inevitable that it would go down to the end.
“That’s what makes it fun,” said Eldorado junior midfielder Brad Carabajal, who had a regulation goal and a shootout goal for Eldorado.
The final order of the teams depends largely on what happens between Eldorado and Sandia.
A one-goal Matadors win, combined with a La Cueva victory over Manzano, would create a three-way tie at 4-2. It would also mean that each of the three teams went 2-2 against the others, and with identical goal differentials.
But if Sandia were to win by two or more goals, based on Section 7.17.1, subset K of the NMAA handbook, the Matadors would win the district based on a better goal differential. And in that situation, La Cueva and Eldorado would have to determine second and third place by using goal differential in all district games. Which basically means, whoever has better results against fourth-place Manzano.
“From the very first announcement (of 2-5A),” Witkowski said, “we knew this is the way it would be.”
The Eagles struck quickly Tuesday, with Carabajal scoring in the fifth minute. La Cueva pulled even in the 20th minute on the first of two goals by Jaime Hernandez.
But Warren Roberson’s 30th-minute tally put the Eagles in front 2-1 at halftime. Hernandez got the equalizer in the 68th minute.
In the shootout, La Cueva’s Cory Lucero missed the net wide left in the first round, and Eldorado goalkeeeper Tyler Cotter saved a shot against the Bears’ Matt Steffens in the fourth round to clinch the game.
Eldorado was 4-for-4 in PKs, behind Tristan Bennett, Dillon De Luca, Carabajal and Austin Duran.
The Eagles (14-3 overall) avenged an earlier loss in district to La Cueva (13-3-1).
The 12-team playoff field will be selected and seeded Sunday. Eldorado, La Cueva, Sandia, Mayfield and Las Cruces at this point are all in the running for top-four seeds and first-round byes.
But who will be the odd team out?