Frustration turned quickly to elation for the Nogales Apaches on Wednesday night when, after being denied a potential penalty kick with less than a minute to play in a 2-2 state tournament play-in game, Alek Peral headed a corner kick from Roberto Castaneda into the Lake Havasu goal for the game-winning score.

The decisive sequence of events began with Marco Amador challenging the Havasu goalkeeper as he came out to clean up a loose ball. Amador got a shot off, but as the goalie slid past, the ball deflected off him or another defender and rolled over the end line.

Amador and the rest of the Nogales contingent insisted that the goalie illegally touched the ball with his hand after leaving the 18-yard box. But rather than awarding the Apaches a penalty kick from just a few feet in front of the net, the officials conferred and decided that there had be no hand ball after all – a decision that infuriated the Nogalians and resulted in two yellow cards.

The team quickly regrouped and set up for the fateful corner kick, which Peral converted with 42 seconds left on the clock.

NHS-Havasu

Alek Peral uses his head to deflect a corner kick into the Lake Havasu goal in the final minute of play to give Nogales a 3-2 advantage.

The goal set off a wild celebration on the sidelines – a scene that was repeated again after Nogales held off a final Lake Havasu charge and the whistle sounded on the Apaches’ 3-2 victory.

“It was something that I had thought of ever since I was little,” Peral said of his game-winner. “It’s great to be able to do it in this position, and be able to go on to the next round. We’re not done yet.”

It was Peral’s second goal of the game. His first came on a shot from straight on with 17:14 left on the clock that tied the score at 2.

Asked how the team was able to rebound so quickly in the last minute of the game, when the Apaches went from a lost opportunity one second to a perfectly executed set play the next, Peral said: “We didn’t get our way, but we still found a way to take care of things. I mean, wow, I’m speechless right now.”

Rollercoaster

Nogales fell behind 1-0 in the 24th minute of the first half, then came back to tie the score three minutes later on a blast by Castaneda.

Lake Havasu retook the lead just minutes into the second half on a chaotic and physical play that saw Nogales goalie Nickolas Molina crash to the ground as a Havasu player slid the ball into the net.

Six minutes later, Molina robbed the Knights of a third goal with a diving save on a header in front of the net. He also made a pair of leaping saves in the half that kept his team in contention.

After Peral’s two late goals tied and won the game for the Apaches, NHS coach Armando Romero-Davis said he thought soccer was giving him diabetes, “because it’s a rollercoaster of emotions in one game.”

Romero-Davis said he hadn’t yet stopped yelling about the non-call on the hand ball when his players turned around and converted the corner kick. “It’s been a great night,” he said.

As for the Apaches’ overall approach to the game, the coach said they were working on keeping the ball down, close to the ground, to compensate for the team’s lack of height. And he was happy with their execution and possessions.

“The second goal that (Lake Havasu) scored was the weirdest goal that I have seen in a game, so it should have been 3-1,” he said. “But the other team also played hard. They didn’t come here for a picnic – they wanted to win. So it required a lot of work, a lot of effort. The team is doing what we have been practicing.”

Having won their 5A Conference state tournament play-in game as the No. 13 seed, the Apaches earned a spot in the full-fledged 16-team tournament as the No. 12 seed. They’ll next take on No. 5-seeded Campo Verde at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Round 1.

Campo Verde finished the regular season with a record of 9-2-1. Nogales was 8-3-1. The teams did not meet during the regular season or play any common opponents.



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