SANDY — If the Manti Templars came in as the underdogs, they didn't know it. Maybe they refused to believe it.
Either way, those who watched the evenly matched contest couldn't have guessed that St. Joseph was the heavily favored team.
The Templars took home the 2A state title for the first time in the program's short, five-year history with a 3-2 win over the top-ranked Jayhawks.
Manti grasped the title in the 76th minute when Alvaro Cardena wove his way into the box to break the 2-2 tie. The speedy, game-clinching hero outmaneuvered two Jayhawks before sneaking it past St. Joseph goalkeeper, Mitch Koehler.
"It was like adrenaline was just pumping through me," Cardena said of his shining moment. "I put every single bit of hope into it. I did it for my team, I did it for everyone."
Manti, which prior to Saturday's victory had won just one playoff game in program history, trailed 2-1 early in the second half.
However, the Templars were first on the scoreboard, leading 1-0 in the sixth minute when Jed Black sent one sailing from well beyond the 18-yard box.
"It was almost a bad omen when we scored first in this game," head coach Gerald Wayman said, explaining that the team performs best when working to overcome a deficit.
"This team has been down in almost every game they have played this year. We have had to come from behind and we play better when that happens."
It wasn't long before the Templars were back in their element, chasing a 2-1 St. Joseph lead after goals in the 32nd and 35th minutes.
The first St. Joseph goal was an own goal, as Carlo Garcia let it get away from him just in front of the net. Three minutes later, Connor Lefendre booted in the second Jayhawk goal, changing the game completely. Or so it appeared.
Fortunately for Manti, Carlo Garcia came out determined to right his wrong, tying the game in the 44th minute when he outraced two defenders and snuck it around Koehler at the perfect moment.
The Jayhawks had their chances but failed to capitalize on viable opportunities. Senior Adam Brodstein sent one pinging off the frame and Manti goalkeeper Antonia Jimenez was kept very busy in the net.
In fact, if ever a goalkeeper felt left out of the action, it was not on Saturday. Both keepers were kept diving and leaping for the full 80 minutes.
"I saw more action with this team," Jimenez said. "They were really good; the best team we have played all season. They played with heart."
Jimenez was relieved and overjoyed at the outcome of his team's trip to the stadium.
"It was an amazing experience," he said. "I'll remember it for the rest of my life. This is my senior year and I'll be a happy graduate knowing I played at Rio Tinto Stadium."
Manti's playoff run included a large margin victory over Intermountain Christian, an overtime win over last year's state champion Waterford, and a win over Layton Christian en route to the title.
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