The Mesa High School slogan, “Carry on,” written on the scoreboard, held extra meaning for the boys soccer team Thursday night, as the Jackrabbits played themselves into a spot in the 6A state playoffs with a 2-0 victory over Tucson High Magnet School.
For a team full of seniors, the win extends the season at least one more game.
Mesa got on the board early, leaving little doubt the team wanted to come out as the aggressor. In just the third minute, senior Moises Durazo, who leads the team in scoring, took a pass off a throw-in from the top right corner of the box and blasted a right-footer off the left post and past the keeper.
"I saw the space, and I just took the shot and hoped for the best. And it went in, it was pretty awesome,” he said.
The initial goal gave Mesa early momentum and energy, which led to another goal by senior Aaron Vindiola in the 11th minute, another strike into the top left corner off a cross to the top center of the box.
Able to take some of the pressure of getting goals out of the way, the two goals were enough momentum to carry Mesa throughout the match.
"It was really important to get us ahead, made us get pumped, and made us know that we could compete at the best and win,” Durazo said.
“I think it takes a lot of the pressure off. We've had a couple games where we couldn't score, get a goal. And we'd go into half with nothing, and so to get the goal early was a bonus,” coach T.J. Hagen said.
However, Tucson did not go down easy. Following the two early goals, the Badgers started to get numbers up the field and behind the ball, utilizing their wingers to cross balls into the middle, which forced senior goalkeeper Daniel Peralta to make a few tough saves in the middle of the first half.
Peralta, who said he has not had his best season as a goalkeeper, was happy to keep a clean sheet in a playoff game in his final season. He gave much of that credit to the defense that tightened late and allowed few significant opportunities in the team’s final third near the end of the game.
“They communicated, stayed compacted and just played really well," he said.
Though excited to win and find a spot in the playoffs, Hagen said that organization, and capitalizing on chances on offense could be key
Hagen is confident in Mesa’s ability to compete with even the best competition in the state moving forward, but hopes his squad is able to utilize its many quality players up front to end opportunities in goals, rather than just shots or crosses.
“For us to finish at the net, that's a world of difference for a team with a lead to win with,” Hagen said.
"There's a lot of good teams at state, but we just have to come out and play a great game, and these guys know how to do it."
As a play-in team, the Jackrabbits will likely have to face off with one of the tournament’s high seeds, and potentially top-seeded Brophy Prep, but for Peralta, getting Thursday’s win, and continuing a successful senior year, is enough motivation to work hard and try to pull off an upset.
“We've got to drive to get that first state championship, for us and for coach to get his first, and it’s just a great opportunity.”