There was a nervous anticipation emanating from the Valley bench. The Vikings were the underdogs against vaunted Las Vegas, a team that had not lost in nearly two months, but that didn’t matter.
Valley could smell an upset.
And sure enough, in a 0-0 game as the clock counted toward 80, Fausto Vega, the Vikings’ senior captain, had the game on his foot in the 75th minute and did not miss. He beat the keeper for the game’s only goal and sent Valley into the Sunrise Region title game with a 1-0 victory Thursday at Bettye Wilson Park.
“It’s time to fight for the title now,” Vega said.
It was clear early on the Northeast League’s No. 3 seed was not going to go down easily. The Vikings (6-8-4) lost more than they won in league play (3-4-1), but that didn’t stop them from playing a nearly flawless defensive game.
Valley did not allow a shot on goal in the first half, keeping the ball off the foot of Las Vegas’ top scorer, Mario Diaz. He got the first shot for the Wildcats (12-4-5), but not until the 54th minute.
Las Vegas had one last chance in the 78th minute, but the free kick off the foot of Agustin Hernandez went right into the arms of Valley keeper Jesus Enriquez. It was his second save, capping his second shutout of the season, but this one meant more. He cradled it in his arms, knowing the game was over.
“It’s indescribable,” Enriquez said. “It’s hard to explain, honestly. It’s incredible.”
Valley has had a flair for the dramatic during this tournament. On Tuesday it scored in the 78th minute in its quarterfinal against Foothill, then won with a goal in double overtime.
The Vikings won in the 75th minute Thursday, sending them into the Sunrise final against Coronado at 10 a.m. Saturday. Valley won its region and reached the state title game in 2014. They were runners-up in 2009.
The preparation for the title game is pretty simple.
“Rest, rest, don’t do anything stupid,” Enriquez said. “Just get prepared and be ready.”
Coronado 5, Rancho 2 — John Lynam had a hat trick and an assist, and Preston Judd had two goals and two assists to lead the Cougars over the Rams and into the Sunrise Region title game.
The game was microcosm of Coronado’s season. Lynam or Judd scored while the other assisted. Lynam is tied for the Southern Nevada lead with 29 goals and is second with 19 assists. Judd is right behind with 24 goals and 18 assists.
“That’s their job. Their job is to score goals,” Coronado coach Dustin Barton said. “The team gets them the ball, that’s their job to get them the ball in the right places and then they score the goals.”
Lynam book-ended the scoring, netting both of the Cougars’ first-half goals, then after Judd answered back with a pair of his own, Lynam finished the scoring with a tap-in from Judd.
Coronado will play Valley at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Bettye Wilson Park. The game has extra meaning for the Cougars, who made it to the title game before falling to Green Valley. Lynam said this year will be different.
“Last year we weren’t as strong as this year,” Lynam said. “This year I think will be easier because we’re a better team this year. We have a lot more goal scorers and a solid defense again, so I think it should be a better game this year.”
Valley has shown the magic touch this season, scoring in the 78th minute to tie it on Tuesday before winning in double overtime, and scoring the only goal of the game in the 75th minute Thursday. Regardless, the Cougars are the top-ranked Sunrise Region team in the latest coaches poll and can’t wait for their second shot at a region championship.
“We’re ready to go,” Barton said. “That’s what we’ve been working on all year long and we’re ready to go.”