Campo Verde's boys soccer team earned another chance for an unbeaten season Thursday, but it wasn't until the final five minutes of its match that became a reality.
Blaise Hale, who had the assist on Campo's first goal early in the second half, tallied on a header in the 75tth minute giving Campo Verde a 2-1 victory over stubborn Ironwood in a 5A semifinal contest at Campo Verde High School.
Campo Verde, the top seed, notched win No. 25 against no losses or ties. The Coyotes face No. 3 seed North Canyon, a 2-1 winner over Independence in the other semi, for the championship on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Campo Verde. It will be the first title appearance for Campo's boys program. No. 4 Ironwood, winners of three state titles and two runners-up at various levels under longtime coach Tim Beck, finished 16-6-1.
"Did I think we'd be undefeated, no way," Campo Verde coach Drew Guarneri said. "Our goal every year is to win a state championship. We talk about being as composed as possible regardless of the situation. Tonight we weren't composed. We managed to win and get another game. Blaise is one of the best in the state doing what he did. Both games with Ironwood were tight. They're a very good team."
This one was a rematch from a late December invitational won by Campo Verde,1-0. It was similar in physicality as the first, but with a berth in the final on the line it had that little bit extra. Both teams had a hard time keeping their composure as time wound down in the second half and the match tied 1-1.
Ironwood gave up the first goal five minutes into the second half. Campo's Johnny Halter doing the honors from 20 yards out on a set piece intiated by Robert Delci's throw and a flick by Hale. Ironwood threatened several times after that getting off good shots in the 50th and 59th minute saved by Coyotes' keeper Justin Zimmeran.
But Ironwood netted the equalizer with 15 minutes left. The Eagles Nate Guzman didn't give Zimmerman any chance ripping home a shot in the box as players scrambled for possession. Zimmerman came up with several other saves in the match.
Two minutes and change after the tying goal, two red cards were issued. One to Campo's Ethan Willson and then one to Ironwood's Rogelio Guerrero while officials were sorting out the first red card. Both teams played the final 12:45 with 10 players.
Ironwood applied most of the pressure in the first few minutes following its goal and seemed to have momentum. But Campo got possession with about six minutes left and ultimately another throw by Delci, who was about even with the box. The throw was a good one, cleanly knocked in by Hale. The good vibes for Ironwood were gone and outcome secured.
Hale's initial assessment of the team the first few practices was they were not anything special or state championship material.
"Actually I didn't think we were as good as good as I expected we'd be," Hale said.
A first impression gone awry.
As for getting the game winner, Hale said: "I was hoping at the end we would work together and get the goal. Robert gave a great ball."