The Bynum brothers authored the most significant moment of nearly a quarter century of boys soccer at Rio Rancho High School.
Jamal Bynum, with the feed, and Lamar Bynum, with the goal, paired up for the lone tally in the Class 5A boys state final on Saturday afternoon, and that 68th-minute goal was the difference for the sixth-seeded Rams in a 1-0 triumph over No. 4 Albuquerque High at Robertson Field.
“I am so proud of our young men,” Rio Rancho coach John Shepard said. “They showed character on top of character on top of character. Mental toughness, heart, teammwork, love for each other. It is a fantastic group of young men.”
It is the first blue trophy in this sport for Rio Rancho (10-2), which opened in 1997. This was the program’s first appearance in the championship game.
“Unreal,” Rams center back Kaden Schufft said. “We proved everybody wrong.”
On a counterattack, Lamar Bynum, who also is a member of the New Mexico United Academy team, chipped in a goal from about 20 yards out, over the onrushing Julian Lucero, Albuquerque High’s goalkeeper who was trying to cut down the angle and limit Bynum’s shooting options. Bynum lofted it over Lucero.
“I was honestly preparing for overtime,” Lamar Bynum said. “But I was like, ‘no, I can outpace their back line.’ It popped out to my brother, and I put my hand up. He already knows we have that good chemistry, and he put it over the top.”
Bynum said NMU Academy told its team members that they could finish out their high school season if they so desired.
“I can’t vouch for anyone else,” Bynum said. “For me, it was important to finish out my senior year, to play with my brother, do it for the fans.”
Saturday, the Rams’ defense packed it in fairly tight against the Bulldogs, looking to counterattack when the opportunity arose, AHS coach Lucien Starzynski said.
“We had more of it, they dropped off defensively in their final third and were gonna play more on a counter,” he said. “Everything that happened on that goal is exactly what we talked about. Unfortunately at that one moment, we didn’t get it quite right, and they capitalized.”
Rio Rancho knocked off three of the top four seeds this week in the playoffs. The Rams won on the road Tuesday against No. 3 Mayfield, then ousted No. 2 La Cueva in penalty kicks on Thursday night.
Saturday, the Rams toppled the defending state champions. It was the final game at AHS (7-1) for Starzynski, who is soon to embark on a new chapter in his career with NMU’s Academy team as its head scout. Bynum gave Starzynski a warm hug afterward.
“You know, these last two weeks have been extremely tough for me emotionally,” Starzynski said. “Today was the beauty of any sport in that, when the game starts, nothing else matters and the rest of the world is shut out. … There will be more time for reflection in the coming week.”
Half a dozen Bulldogs were scooped up by New Mexico United Academy since January and chose to continue to train with them. And still, the Bulldogs advanced to the season’s last game.
But Saturday belonged to Rio Rancho, which last met Albuquerque High in the metro final of September 2019, when AHS won in overtime. The Bulldogs on Saturday managed just a single shot on frame, a blast by Dylan Castillo that hit the underside of the crossbar midway through the first half. Castillo raised his arms for a moment, believing that it had crossed the line when it hit the ground.
AHS was in the championship for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
RIO RANCHO 1, ALBUQURQUE HIGH 0
Rio Rancho 0 1 — 1
AHS 0 0 — 0
Scoring: RR, 68th, Lamar Bynum (Jamal Bynum). Shots on goal: RR 7; AHS 1. Saves: RR, Joey Diaz 0; AHS, Tyler Casias 2, Julian Lucero 2. Corners: RR 1; AHS 2.