The second-seeded Centennial Hawks and No. 12 Cleveland Storm boys’ soccer teams had a lot of fans watching the championship game Saturday afternoon, but these fans were the happiest at game’s end. (Herron photo)



When the Fuddruckers Class 5A state tournament began, the Cleveland High boys soccer team wasn’t even the best boys’ team in the city.

Finishing fourth – Rio Rancho finished third – and receiving the No. 12 seed in the 12-team tournament, the Storm became candidates for Al Michaels’ famous “Do you believe in miracles?” call in 1980.

All this team did was, in order, beat the No. 5, No. 4 and No. 1 teams – all on the road – and then return home to Lightning Bolt Stadium to beat the No. 2 team, Centennial, 2-0, Saturday afternoon.

This was the same Hawks (20-2-1) team that beat the Storm 3-2, on the same field, back on Aug. 20.

“I don’t think anyone else except us thought we could accomplish,” said sophomore goalkeeper Joaquin Armijo. “I think we had a strong start in this season, but the way we performed in district, there was a chance we weren’t going to go to state this year.”

The Storm didn’t make the 12-team field the past two seasons.

After a scoreless first half, Brayan Ramirez’s 60-yard kick to start the second half went into the Hawks’ net and Justin Cantrell’s header, off a cross from Dominic Aguilar with about 15 minutes left in regulation served as an insurance goal for the Storm, who also won the blue trophy in 2018.

Ramirez wasn’t around to help out over the final 20 minutes, having received two yellow cards and becoming disqualified.

Coach Shaun Gill said the key to the incredible run was due to “a lot of hard work, the kids paying for each other, and they came together at the right time.

“Getting into the tournament just gave them a chance, and they rallied around that,” he said. “They played for each other; we have a true team, and that’s what carried us through the last four games.”

Gill said his team watched film of that Aug. 20 meeting with the Hawks, and, “Their midfield is some of the best we’ve seen – obviously, our guys are a little better.

“I’m proud of the defense,” he added, crediting Armijo as “a field player that we had to throw into goal, just out of necessity. He has owned that position and is the best ’keeper in the state, as far as I’m concerned.

“We have a team. There was not an individual, they were a true team and they get along – when they hang out, they all hang out together,” Gill said. “That’s what was fun about this year.”

Of course, if the opponent doesn’t score, it won’t win. The Storm allowed only three goals in the four-game run to the blue trophy, while scoring seven of their own.

Armijo said he’ll be happy to be the ‘keeper again next year; last year’s starter joined the United Academy soccer team.

‘They just needed someone, so I stepped in – I’ve been being goalie for about four months now.”