As many opportunities as Lincoln High School’s boys’ soccer team created in the first half of the Academic Athletic Association semifinals against Washington, it was a sparkling individual performance that punched the Mustangs’ ticket to the championship game.
Lincoln junior forward Felipe Herrera’s goal in the 57th minute put the Mustangs ahead 2-1, and Lincoln held on to win on Tuesday at Boxer Stadium.
Herrera worked his way into the right corner of Washington’s end, shook an Eagles defender, then walked a tightrope along the goal line to keep the ball in play.
All alone heading toward the right post, Herrera calmly chipped the ball over sliding Washington goalkeeper Paulo Romero from an almost impossible angle.
"It was just dedication," Herrera said. "I fought for it and won it at the line and they tried to trip me up, but I just used my strength to get in there and got a shot off."
After a frustrating first half where Lincoln (13-4-1) controlled possession and opportunities, the Mustangs struck first in the 49th minute on a goal from Hector Wilson Perez, but it didn’t take long for the Eagles (12-4-3) to respond.
A minute later, Washington senior midfielder Jeffrey Mejia took control of the ball from 25 yards out, flicked the ball into the air and volleyed a strike into the right side of the net to knot the score at 1-1.
"He’s a warrior and he never gives up," Washington coach Jose Carrera said of Mejia. "They gave 110 percent and played like champions today. We just played a really good team and with a 2-1 [result], our kids should be really proud of what we did today."
The Mustangs took back control, though, and continued to dictate play after the Eagles’ equalizing goal.
"Statistically, that’s when we’re most vulnerable, after a goal," Lincoln coach Kenyatta Scott said. "But our guys rallied.
"They came back, didn’t get flustered and said, ‘OK, we can still do what we need to do.’"
The Mustangs will face either undefeated Lowell or Mission, who will play in the other semifinal today, in the championship on Saturday, while Washington’s 15-year championship drought continues.
Still, the Eagles made their first playoff appearance in over 10 years and Carrera views the season as a success.
"It was our goal from the beginning, to make the playoffs," Carrera said. "I’m very glad for what we did this year."
Lincoln lost its only regular-season meeting with Lowell, 2-0, and split two games against Mission.