This is a great team, and we have been strong the whole season. We have fallen down before, but we always come back up. Tonight we fought to the end, to the last minute. —West's Alejandro Alvarez Araiza
SALT LAKE CITY — The West High Panthers are headed to the 5A boys soccer state tournament.
That was true prior to Tuesday night’s regular-season finale against Olympus, played at West High School.
What is different, following the conclusion of the game, is that for the first time in four years, the Panthers will host a state playoff game.
And it is all due to a West victory on Senior Night.
Alvarez Araiza’s score was the game-winner, coming in stoppage time mere moments after a goal by Olympus’ Logan Davies knotted the score at 1-1.
“It was quite the game,” West head coach Kris Hamlet said. “It has been a while since we have had a home field playoff spot on the line, and our boys really wanted it. I think they laid it on the field today.”
“This is a great team, and we have been strong the whole season,” added Alvarez Araiza. “We have fallen down before, but we always come back up. Tonight we fought to the end, to the last minute.”
The game was a fitting fight for the final regular-season game between region rivals.
West and Olympus tied 1-1 in their contest at Olympus a few weeks earlier, and it was that game that prepared the Panthers for Tuesday night.
“I think we got pushed around a little bit the first game, but we came ready to play tonight,” said Hamlet. “I think more than anything, we came and matched them physically today.”
It was physical throughout, with fouls being much more prevalent than shot attempts. At least four yellow cards were handed out, including one in a scrum toward the end of the contest.
West keeper Erik Pena was one of multiple players on both sides to suffer injuries. Pena suffered what is likely a minor shoulder sprain after a midair collision with Titan senior Tony Foulger.
As far as the Panthers were concerned, it was all preparation for the playoffs.
“I think that is good because we know we are going to have to kick it up to that level of physicality in the state tournament,” said Hamlet. “Every game could be your last, so I think this will be a good springboard into that.”
The game was scoreless for almost the first half, despite a scare or two on either side.
Silva broke through in the 38th minute after finding himself alone on the right wing. The sophomore drilled the ball into the left side of the net, leaving Olympus keeper Ian Jones without a shot at a save.
The Panthers took the 1-0 lead into the break and out of halftime appeared the better side. West controlled possession effectively, mustered more than a few shots on goal and had the Titans looking overwhelmed.
“I think in the first half we were chasing a lot,” said Hamlet. “Olympus had the run of play. I think we came out in the second half and took over some possession.”
Everything changed in the 74th minute when Davies powered the ball into the back of the net from well outside the box.
That tied the game at one goal apiece and had Hamlet seeing ghosts.
“It has been so many years where we lose these kinds of game,” Hamlet said, “where we have a lead the whole game and then we give up a late one. Then we give up another late one and end up losing.”
Alvarez Araiza and his stoppage-time goal prevented that from happening this time around.
“I was going to cross it, but I saw the opportunity and decided to be selfish,” Alvarez Araiza said. “I got a goal out of it and we didn’t go to overtime.
“I feel like this was one of the best goals I have ever scored,” the junior added. “It feels good.”