Nov. 13, 2011
Denver, Colo. - If there ever was proof that this is indeed a magical season for the No. 1 ranked New Mexico Lobo men's soccer team, it came on Sunday.
In the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title game, an own goal by Bakersfield tied the game for the Lobos with 5:41 to play. Then, the regular-season heroes came through in penalty kicks, giving the Lobos their first conference tournament title crown since 2008 and handing UNM the automatic berth into the NCAA College Cup. UNM won six titles from 2002 to 2008, only missing out in 2004.
Officially the game goes down as a 1-1 draw, ending UNM's 13-match winning streak but keeping the Lobos undefeated at 17-0-3. However, someone had to get the MPSF's automatic berth, and that was decided in penalty kicks. The Lobos shined once again.
Both teams didn't score in the opening round of five kicks, with Tournament MVP Victor Rodriguez making a diving stop on Bakersfield's Richard Menjivar to open the penalty session. Lance Rozeboom of the Lobos suffered the same fate. CSUB hit the crossbar in round two and New Mexico made the Roadrunners pay. Michael Green hit his shot, giving UNM a 1-0 lead.
Rodriguez then did the improbable, saving a second penalty kick, and Blake Smith put UNM up 2-0. Needing a goal to stay alive, Bakersfield earned a reprieve with Ken Taylor finally solving the riddle of Rodriguez for a goal, cutting the lead to 2-1. However, it was merely a stay of execution as Albuquerque native Devon Sandoval, who hadn't taken a penalty kick all season, hammered home his shot giving the Lobos their long awaited title.
The fact it got to penalty kicks was shocking in itself. Tied for most of the game at 0-0, Gyasi Zardes, the MPSF Player of the Year, gave the 'Runners a 1-0 lead with just 6:45 left on the clock. Ernesto Hinojosa took a quick throw-in to Jesus Sanchez, who drove a low cross on the ground that Zardes punched by UNM's Rodriguez.
However, fate, magic, whatever you want to call it, intervened. With just 5:41 left, a long cross into the box for Kyle Venter was headed into to Bakersfield net by one of their own defenders, an own goal that tied the game.
Each team had a solid opportunity in overtime, with UNM getting three shots off on a corner kick in the first overtime. Bakersfield sent a header just wide of the UNM net late in the second OT, setting up the dramatic penalty kick finish.
New Mexico was outshot on the day 20-10, including 8-3 on net as the Lobos faced off against a Bakersfield team that desperately wanted the Federation's automatic berth, instead of sweating out the 2:30 p.m. selection show on Monday. Bakersfield is expected to make the tournament field for the first time in school history.
UNM's team will gather at 2:30 p.m., Monday at the Nob Hill Bar and Grill to find out where and who the Lobos will play. The selection show is on NCAA.com.