It’s Sandia, for the first time in 15 years, and Santa Fe, for the first time ever, in the Class 5A boys state soccer championship game.
The top-ranked Demons will appear in their first final after rallying past No. 12 Atrisco Heritage 2-1, while No. 3 Sandia, which last made it to the title game in 2006, shut out No. 2 La Cueva 3-0 at the APS Complex in Wednesday night’s semifinals.
All of Sandia’s goals came after halftime, but the only one that truly mattered was the first one, by sophomore Jake Rivas in the 45th minute.
John Mee of the Bears – who finished 17-2-1, with both full time losses coming to Sandia – was called for a foul just outside the box, setting up the goal.
Connor Cousins of the Matadors (17-3) took the ensuing direct kick from about 25 yards out. His shot went over the La Cueva wall in front of him, and on frame where La Cueva sophomore goalkeeper Cole Bachuzewski authored a leaping save.
But, he didn’t secure the ball as he came back down. And ever alert, Rivas swooped in and pounced on the rebound, scoring from less than a yard away to break the scoreless deadlock.
Cousins and Rivas said the play was executed perfectly.
“We decided to go up high to see if we could get it to bounce off his hands,” Rivas said. “That was our plan.”
Said Cousins: “He’s a good keeper; (but) he has trouble catching the ball.”
La Cueva coach Easy Jimenez disputed that assertion, but his issue was more with the foul on Mee that created the pivotal sequence.
“It was a clean tackle,” he said. “That’s all I’m gonna say.”
Sandia coach Ryan Sanchez said he left the direct kick particulars to his team.
“Their goalkeeper is young; can we put him in an awkward position?” Sanchez said.
Cousins added an insurance goal in the 75th minute, creating a gap with his defender and pounding a low shot from 20 yards out inside the near post.
“They let me have space, which was the biggest thing,” Cousins said. “Don’t give me space or I will beat you one-on-one.”
Nico Moralde scored on a penalty kick in the 79th minute.
SANDIA 3, LA CUEVA 0
NO. 1 SANTA FE 2, No. 12 ATRISCO HERITAGE 1: In Santa Fe, it was 5A’s leading scorer, forward Alex Waggoner, who sparked the Demons (21-1) past the upstart Jaguars (12-9) in the other semifinal.
Atrisco Heritage had the first goal, in the 52nd minute, but Waggoner got the equalizer in the 66th minute.
In the 72nd minute, Jack Joseph fed to Waggoner, who fired from about 18 yards out for the go-ahead goal.
“That’s his forté,” Santa Fe coach Chris Eadie said. “When he gets behind a defender and he’s one-on-one with the keeper, he rarely misses.”