BERNALILLO — it was the worst.
It was the best.
All Wesley Sage Graham could to do between those two moments was keep playing.
The St. Michael’s senior midfielder turned what could have been the worst way to end his prep career into his best — so far. Minutes after missing a penalty kick in the first overtime of a Class 1A/3A semifinal against city rival Monte del Sol that could have sent the Horsemen to the state championship Friday, Graham made up for his gaffe by being in the right place at the right time in the second overtime.
He redirected a missed shot by teammate Berkeley Reynolds past Dragons goalkeeper Noel Puentes and into the net for the golden goal and a 3-2 win. St. Michael’s, the eight seed in the 1A/3A bracket, faces No. 2 New Mexico Military Institute for the state title at 1 p.m. Friday. The Colts defeated Albuquerque Sandia Prep in a penalty kick shootout, 7-6, after neither team scored during regulation and two overtimes.
If it comes to a shootout Friday, Graham said he’ll be ready to do it again. After all, it’s not the first time this has happened to him.
“When you miss a penalty like that, you just have to put it behind you,” Graham said. “Or else, you’re not going to perform like you want to. You’re not going to be able to play as good as you would.”’
Graham was at his best after that miss when he was standing in the right spot when Reynolds’ shot off a corner kick crossing pass bounced off a Dragons defender. It landed at Graham’s feet, and he slapped it past Puentes into the middle of the net. It led to a wild celebration with his team and the St. Michael’s student body as fans rushed the field to join the celebration, much to the consternation of security guards.
Not to be lost in the ecstasy of the moment was that
St. Michael’s (12-9-2) played against type, once again. The Horsemen struggled late in the season with scoring off of corner-kick set plays, but scored all their goals against No. 4 Monte del Sol (17-4) on them.
“That’s crazy,” Graham said. “I don’t know how that came down. We were attacking the ball every opportunity we got. That was our mentality coming in: Attack the ball.”
But this tournament run has been about rewriting the book on St. Michael’s. In a 2-0 win over top-seeded Albuquerque Bosque School, the Horsemen held on to a lead against a formidable foe. Against the Dragons, the Horsemen scored on corner kicks and didn’t allow a series of low spots in a four-minute stretch to torpedo their hopes.
In a script that mirrored the two teams’ 4-3 Dragons win Sept. 5, Monte del Sol again pounced upon a Horsemen mistake in the final moments of regulation. Back then, the Dragons scored in the final minute off a turnover after St. Michael’s rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the score.
In this instance, St. Michael’s turned the ball over on a direct kick in the final minute of stoppage time, and Monte del Sol defender Alejandro Morales dribbled down the left sideline before slipping the ball to senior midfielder Pedro Chavez on the left flank. Chavez ripped a line drive into the lower left of the goal, past the outstretched hands of Horsemen goalkeeper Daniel Dominguez for the equalizer.
As the teams went to their sidelines to prepare for overtime, Horsemen head coach Mike Feldewert had to quickly rally his team and get over the end of regulation. Although, even he said he was thinking the worst, too.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, there’s another mistake that cost us,’ ” Feldewert said. “Fortunately, it didn’t. It just made the [match] more fun is what it did.”
It sure didn’t seem like fun in the third minute of the first overtime. St. Michael’s sophomore forward Oliver Rosales took a pass over the top of the Monte del Sol defense and tried to cut in for a shot, but was knocked down in the penalty box for a penalty kick. Graham drew the responsibility to take the shot, but the 6-foot-3 Puentes guessed right and dove to his right for the save that led to a mighty roar by the Dragons faithful.
Almost on cue, Monte del Sol pressured the Horsemen defense. Thanks to the heady play of Dominguez, St. Michael’s thwarted three shots by Chavez over the final seven minutes of the first extra period. That included a shot Dominguez slapped at and redirected it off the top post and out of bounds in the final minute.
“Brian Blaser, our goalie coach, and I talked about how far he has come,” Feldewert said. “It was almost like these last two or three games, he’s a different kind of ’keeper.”
And this is a different type of team, suddenly. St. Michael’s built a 2-0 lead thanks to goals by Trevor Erickson in the 39th minute and Reynolds six minutes into the second half — both off of corner-kick crosses by Rosales. Monte del Sol, though, did not quit attacking and were rewarded for their tenacity in the 60th minute.
Rosales tried to clear an errant ball in the Horsemen box, but Dragons junior midfielder Axel Lozoya jumped to block the pass and sent it into the upper right of the goal to halve the margin. It took a half dozen saves by Dominguez to preserve the lead until the final moments of regulation.
“We were playing a little sloppy in the back, but we played hard,” Chavez said. “We came back, 2-2, and some of those shots didn’t go in. But that’s soccer.”
If you ask Graham and the Horsemen, that’s what makes their sport so great.