Nogales bowed out of the boys soccer state playoffs in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday, losing a tightly-fought match after two overtime periods and penalty kicks.
The No. 11-seeded Apaches scored first at 17:21 into the first half of the Feb. 13 play-in game, then led for most of regulation time and part of the first overtime period. But the No. 22 Cactus Shadows Falcons equalled them at every step, then took home the win on six penalty kicks.
“Every kid who was playing gave their 100,” said NHS coach Armando Romero-Davis. “This is a game, and luck sometimes is what tilts things to one side or the other.”
At first, luck seemed to be on the Apaches side.
Joseph Armenta, a senior midfielder for NHS, drew first blood when he collected a ball crossing the box and drilled a shot into the lower left corner of the net. About seven minutes later, junior forward Juan Beltran stole a pass between two Cactus Shadows defenders and outran his defender for a breakaway opportunity, burying a shot on the right side.
But Cactus Shadows got on the board with a goal with just three minutes remaining in the first half, then tied the game roughly 11 minutes into the second.
Nogales took the lead again with 10:53 to go as one Apache slipped a pass through the Falcons’ defense to a streaking Beltran, who placed a shot over the goalie’s left shoulder.
Play started to get physical towards the end of regulation time as Cactus Shadows made a last-ditch effort to keep their season alive. The Apaches earned three yellow cards and the Falcons drew two in the final 20 minutes.
Then, with just 1:35 remaining, Cactus Shadows tied the score at three on a free kick from close range, sending the game to overtime.
In the first overtime period, NHS and Cactus Shadows traded goals in the first two minutes, with the Apaches scoring on a long throw-in by Gabriel Barraza that was tipped before finding the back of the net. But the first ten-minute overtime with the score tied 4-4 and a second overtime period didn’t produce any scoring.
Penalty kicks began with the two teams taking turns for five shots. Both squads lined up at midfield and alternated sending one player to kick.
Nogales missed their second attempt, giving Cactus Shadows their first lead of the game, but NHS goalie Nickolas Molina saved the Falcons’ third shot, evening the score. With the score tied after five kicks apiece, the teams went to sudden death.
On the sixth kick, Nogales failed to connect and Cactus Shadows scored, giving the win to the visitors from Cave Creek, Ariz.
NHS finished the regular season with an 8-4 overall record, and a 4-2 mark in the 5A Southern Conference that earned them the No. 3 rank in the conference.
“This year we had a very good team, all the kids,” Romero-Davis said. “I wish we could have gone to the next round.”