Not to get too mystical, but Albuquerque Academy gave credit to its 12th man Friday for its Class 4A boys state soccer championship double-overtime victory over Lovington.
“It’s been the most heartbreaking year, and getting these 22 young men to come together and deal with real-life moments that will be forever changing for them and losing one of their teammates,” said Chargers coach Laney Kolek of Isaac Shelby, who died earlier in the season. “At this moment, it means even so much more. Almost like he was with us and we were able to give back in this moment for him as well.”
It was the Chargers’ 10th team title and second in a row after beating the Wildcats in the spring, as well.
Neven Zapatka, who touched in the game-winner in the 97th minute past hard-charging Wildcats goalkeeper Isaac Hinson, said Shelby was definitely on their minds throughout the game.
“Honestly, we’ve been through so much as a team,” he said. “We lost one of our teammates early on. Just knowing he was in our presence and he was the 12th man Friday. That’s just really what helped us accomplish that, if I’m going to be honest.”
Early on, it didn’t seem like the second-seeded Chargers (15-4) needed much help, divine or otherwise, as they quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind goals from Oliver Kumar in the second minute and Luke Babinski in the 33rd.
But far from being defeated, top-seeded Lovington (19-2), which was seeking its first soccer title, roared out of halftime with an Adam Aguilera goal four minutes after the break, then got the equalizer from Christian Contreras in the 59th minute.
“These guys have a lot of fight in them,” Lovington coach Reyes Marquez said. “They’re not going to lay down for anybody. That’s the way we train over there. They’re hard-working kids. They’re a class act, our guys. We just tell them you just fight until the final whistle blows. So we had to keep fighting.”
Lovington continued its press throughout the second half, with several scoring chances that just went awry.
“At halftime we had control of the match,” Kolek said. “But Lovington came out with the fire. The game leveled up and they had that huge bit of momentum. They had us on our heels for a good portion of the match. It was just getting them to fight in waves and trying to calm them down before that second overtime period started and have them be poised and have them pick their moments to go in behind.”
Zapatka found just such a moment in the waning moments when Sanchit Singh sent a bouncer to the top of the penalty area.
“I just saw Sanchi pick his head up and he played a great ball and I knew the defender was going to miss so I stepped right away and I got a little chip over,” Zapatka said. “That’s pretty much how it went. I was in the right place at the right time. It was one of those moments. That’s why I knew I had to get a foot in front of it first. That keeper was really good, so I’m lucky I got that in.”
No. 2 ALBUQUERQUE ACADEMY 3,
No. 1 LOVINGTON 2, 2 OTs
Albuquerque Academy 2 0 0 1 — 3
Lovington 0 2 0 0 —2
Scoring: AA, 2nd, Oliver Kumar (Neven Zapatka); AA, 33rd, Luke Babinski (Kumar); L, 44th, Adam Aguilera (unassisted); L, 59th, Christian Contreras (unassisted); AA, 97th, Zapatka (Sanchit Singh). Shots on goal: AA 12; L 6. Corner kicks: AA 1; L 5. Saves: AA, Zack Sena 5; L, Isaac Hinson 9.