For 95 minutes on Thursday, it appeared the hosting No. 29 Coconino Panthers would either force the No. 6 Mohave Thunderbirds into a tie or pull off a win against the Grand Canyon Region leader.
However, a ball off the foot of a Mohave player deflected off the arm of a Panther inside the box with just 5:02 remaining in the second period of extra time, leading to a penalty kick and a 1-0 victory for the Thunderbirds.
“Just clearing the ball and not letting them have open shots is what we are trying to do,” said Panthers head coach Kalani Kuamoo. “Unfortunately, a ball to a hand is different than a hand to a ball, but that’s just the way it is. We play St. Mary’s tomorrow, maybe bounce back. They are 0-7, so we will see what we can do.”
Coconino controlled the attack for the early portion of extra time, with Jordan Lugo sending a shot wide right of the goal in the 85th minute. Less than four minutes later, Hipolito Molina found some space deep in the right corner of the Panthers’ attacking third. After looking to cross the ball into the box, Molina recovered a deflection and slid for a shot with the ball only rolling into the arms of Mohave’s goalkeeper.
On the other end, Diego Ramirez tipped away a ball sent into the box with under a minute remaining in the first 10-minute period of extra time before recording another save four minutes into the second extra period, falling on a loose ball in the box.
Ramirez kept out every shot Mohave sent at him during regulation, holding the Thunderbirds to their lowest goal total in a match all season. Entering the day at 6-0-1 to put itself into the top 10 of the 4A Conference, Mohave previously scored a low of two goals in a tie with Lake Havasu and a shutout against Mingus Union.
“My boys have been stepping up in the second half of the season. They are playing with a bunch of heart, and that defense is coming together,” Kuamoo said. “We just had a hard time finding the net today; they did too. We shut down their No. 1 player on their team -- my captain frustrated him and did a great job on him."
Coconino continued to alternate wins and losses since an 0-2 start, with the past four matches all decided by one goal. The Panthers kept Sebastian Leyva marked throughout the day, with Mohave’s senior leader eventually putting in the penalty kick with a shot low and to the left of Ramirez in goal.
While each side attempted its share of set pieces in the second half, neither came close to scoring after the first 40 minutes of scoreless play.
Coconino took chances from far out early on, nearly putting itself on the scoreboard. Leo Abrego’s shot from the right curved to the left and had the keeper without a play on the ball. The shot, however, sailed just over the crossbar in the ninth minute.
Molina took a similar shot from the left side 11 minutes later, with the ball again just sailing over the top of the goal, and the match remained scoreless.
“We practice those long shots just for that reason,” Kuamoo said. “For a keeper, it’s hard for them to time the jump, and a lot of times they go our way.”
Coconino frantically tried to answer Mohave’s goal while the Thunderbirds attempted to bleed out the remainder of the clock. Warned for delaying the game with less than four minutes left, Mohave went down to 10 men after a red card sent a Thunderbird off in the 99th minute.
Sitting at 3-5 overall, Coconino will play four more matches this season, with three on the road as it looks to sneak into the top 24 in order to earn a play-in match in the 4A state tournament. After traveling to No. 43 St. Mary’s in Phoenix Friday, Coconino will play at No. 19 Prescott next Tuesday.