RENO - No matter what happens from here on out, it's safe to say that this Douglas Tigers boys soccer team has set the bar higher than any other in the school's history.
The never-say-die group overcame a 1-0 deficit in regulation time and trailed in the shootout 2-0 before rallying to score a 2-1 (3-2) victory over the Silverado Skyhawks in the semifinals of the NIAA Class 4A state championships Friday at Damonte Ranch High School.
With the win, Douglas, now 20-4-1, advanced to its first-ever state championship game, where it will meet defending champion Bishop Gorman today at 2 p.m. The Gaels took a 1-0 win over South Tahoe in the other semifinal match at Damonte.
Tigers senior goalkeeper Jose Alcaraz was the unlikely offensive hero of the game after sealing the Douglas win with his team's third goal in the shootout, beating Silverado keeper Justin Close to the right side of the net and igniting both his team and the Douglas faithful in an emotional celebration.
"I didn't expect it. I never thought my name would come up on the (shootout) list," said the 17-year-old Alcaraz. "I expected to be on the other side (in the net). (Vasquez) picked me. I thought, 'You know what, go finish it for him. We've had a hell of a run. It's not going to be over tonight.'"
No way, Jose.
Alcaraz recorded 10 saves before the shootout to keep Douglas alive going into the shootout.
Silverado went up 2-0 on penalty kicks by Kyle Mellies and Rene Abrego. Douglas' Oscar Gonzalez hit the right post and Close stoned Eduardo Vega to put the Tigers on the brink of bowing out.
But the Skyhawks began to misfire and Close and Gary Diego sandwiched kicks high over the net around a successful PK by Douglas' Brian Randall. Edgar Arceo beat Close to the right side to tie it 2-2 before Alcaraz denied Omar Sanchez and put the game away with his own penalty kick.
The Skyhawks closed their season at 19-5-1.
"We're a resilient bunch, aren't we?" Tigers coach Milko Vasquez said with a small smile as he walked off the field following the postgame handshake. "We don't make it look pretty; we're not flashy."
Maybe not, but they sure know how to find ways to win.
With the Tigers down 1-0, Vega had an extra touch to cut into the Skyhawks' penalty box, where he drew contact and a penalty kick attempt for sophomore midfielder Arceo in the 70th minute.
Arceo placed the ball past Close and into the right side of the net to tie the game and ultimately set the table for a pair of scoreless overtime periods and the shootout.
Close, a junior, was playing for senior keeper Joey Mora, who was sitting the game out after getting red-carded in the Skyhawks' Sunset Region final against Eldorado.
Silverado credited Sanchez with what Vasquez called a Tigers own-goal in the 36th minute.
"You remember ABC's Wide World of Sports - 'the agony of defeat?'" Vasquez asked. "Well, it wasn't a defeat, but it was agony watching that play (the own-goal). But we persevered."
Up now is a shot at the Gaels, who used their superior speed and ball-handling skills to put an end to South Tahoe's season.
The only goal came in the 74th minute, when Adam Knaff headed in a Sean Zaher cross past Vikings keeper Joshua Doherty.
"We knew it would come down to a one-goal game," said Vikings coach Chris DeLeon, whose team ended its season 9-4-5. "It was just a matter of who made the first mistake. We did. You can't leave a team that good open - they'll finish it every time. It was a great header; it was a great cross. More power to them. They earned it."
And the Gaels, now 15-1-3, were playing for more than just themselves. Their coach of 22 years - Victor Arbelaez - died on Oct. 11, and they played with emotion commensurate with their speed and skill.
"It was a complete team effort," said Nick Arbelaez, Victor's son. "We have 26 players. We don't have a superstar. We come out every day and do what we have to do to get a win.
"With my father passing away, it's been motivation all year. I can't say enough about these guys. They are a motivated bunch. We don't want to stop here. This gives us the opportunity to defend our title."
And it gives the Tigers a chance to make some more history of their own.
"We're definitely David with Goliath," Vasquez said of the upcoming match with Gorman. "I saw them play and I'm like, 'Wow.' They have tremendous skill, tremendous speed."
Vasquez was quick to embrace the role of underdog, but not without expressing how he felt about his scrappy and determined team.
"I'm proud of my boys," he said. "They are so resilient. We were more physical than (the Skyhawks). They were notorious - not in bad way - for being physical. We pushed and pushed and had our chances.
"They deserve it. They love the game. I'm very proud of it. It was impressive. We have a big test (against the Gaels)."