BERNALILLO— Last year, the Los Lunas Tigers were down 2-0 at halftime of their semi-final game at the Fuddruckers State Soccer Championships and went on to lose 7-0.
This year, the team was down 1-0 at halftime to No. 1 seed Albuquerque Academy. The difference? This time, they came back. Los Lunas beat Academy 2-1 thanks to a pair of second-half goals to earn its place in the state championship game against Los Alamos at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.
"We were here in this situation last year," head coach Eric Chavez said of the second half. "That's what experience does for you. We were just smarter about how we went about things. We were playing right. Everything was going right. We just were out of rhythm."
The Tigers had to overcome the loss of three players to injury in the first half, including goalkeeper Pablo Zarraga. Shortly after, Academy broke through and scored the opener to take a 1-0 lead.
Los Lunas struggled to connect on the final ball early on and struggled to get shots on frame in the first half.
In the second half, the Tigers were by far the more aggressive team and kept the ball in the attacking half for much of the time. The Chargers were on their heels trying to maintain the lead. The few chances they generated came from the counter-attack. Jordan Arballo scored the first for the Tigers with a header. He directed the cross from Bryan Tarango into the back of the net despite being sandwiched between a pair of Academy players.
"Once we got that first goal, we were able to get back into our comfort zone and play our game a little bit more," Chavez said. "We were forcing things a little too much at first. We weren't taking the time to possess the ball until we could play direct."
With the Tigers settled back in, Academy was doing all it could to hang on to the draw, but LLHS was getting closer. After a pair of chances came up empty, Memo Lobato was the one to give the Tigers the 2-1 lead in the final ten minutes. There were opportunities for the Tigers to extend the lead, but Academy keeper Zane Peterson did all he could to keep his team within striking distance. The Chargers, however, never were able to muster a response; and Los Lunas got to celebrate a berth in the State Championship game.
"I'm just excited for them," Chavez said of his team. "They deserve this. They've been working hard all year and listening."
No. 2 seed Los Alamos beat St. Pius X on penalty kicks to earn the spot opposite the Tigers on Friday morning. The game will start at 10:30 a.m. on field eight at the Bernalillo Soccer Complex.