Lotus School For Excellence senior Carlos Martinez (19) holds up the Class 2A state runner-up trophy the sixth-seeded Meteors received after a 2-1 loss to No. 1 Vail Mountain in the 2A state title game on Nov. 12, 2022, at Switchbacks Weidner Field in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

COLORADO SPRINGS | The Lotus School For Excellence boys soccer team ended up with the same result as the previous season, but in a much different way and with a vastly different feeling.

The Meteors were short several of their best players due to COVID-19 protocols and overwhelmed because of it by Crested Butte when they played for last season’s Class 2A state championship at Switchbacks Weidner Field and fell 2-0 (story, here).

In its return to the same pitch Nov. 12, sixth-seeded Lotus scored the opening goal of the game against top-seeded Vail Mountain and held the advantage past the midway point in the second half before the Gore Rangers scored twice in a three-minute span and denied the Meteors the title with a 2-1 victory.

Lotus midfielder Fredy Peraza (10) breaks through the midfield in the midst of the Vail Mountain defense during the first half of the 2A state final. Peraza had an assist on the Meteors’ goal in a 2-1 loss. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

“There were no what-ifs this time, what if we had certain players, what if this situation was different,” coach Bennett Pang said. “We went out and played at full strength and Vail were the better team on the day. It’s a much different feeling. It’s almost like we were just happy to be there last year and that’s a contrast to the lockerroom this year. Now, we expect to be there, so it makes it a bit harder to take.”

The residual effect of last season’s championship game appearance gave Pang some needed cache as he attempts to build the program at Lotus, an Aurora school of 900-plus students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Meteors got some additional players — which allowed them to play some junior varsity games that they weren’t able to have last year — and it gave them confidence they could still compete at the highest level in 2A, which experienced an influx of teams that dropped down from 3A.

Even so, Lotus (14-5) played a challenging regular season schedule and then took the No. 6 seed and went all the way through the bracket to the final, knocking off No. 2 Bishop Machebeuf in the semifinals and No. 3 Thomas MacLaren School in the quarterfinals.

That brought them into a matchup with top-seeded Vail Mountain, one of those 3A teams that dropped down. The Gore Rangers made it to the 3A quarterfinals last season.

Just seven-plus minutes into the morning championship game at frosty Weidner Field, the Meteors took the lead when they had a free kick opportunity taken by junior Fredy Peraza, who was fouled outside the box.

A shot just slips past Lotus School For Excellence keeper Fernando Alcantar-Barajas for a goal in the second half of the Meteors’ 2-0 loss to Vail Mountain in the Class 5A boys soccer state championship game on Nov. 12, 2022, at Switchbacks Weidner Field. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

Peraza — whose 38 goals put him second in the final 2A goal scoring leaderboard — bent a shot around the Vail Mountain wall and was batted down by diving keeper Mason Geller, but senior Abeneazer Getachew crashed the play and put in the rebound. It was the second straight big goal for Getachew, whose score held up to be the game-winner in the semifinals.

The early goal brought out a noticeable change to the flow of the game — and not in a good way for Lotus — noted Pang.

“So much emotion dictates the run of play and it’s almost like once we scored, we had a hard time transitioning out of our defensive third,” Pang said. “It was almost a natural reaction that we were just trying to make sure we stayed up.”

The desperate Gore Rangers pressured the remainder of the half — including several dangerous free kick chances — but was unable to get anything past Lotus senior keeper Fernando Alcantar-Barajas, who was also in net for last season’s state championship game for the Meteors.

In the 60th minute, Vail Mountain nearly got the equalizer, but senior defender Carlos Martinez slid to clear the ball off the line. That held off the Gore Rangers for just one more minute, however, as Javier Braun capitalized on a loose ball in front of the goal to tie the game.

A few minutes later, a corner kick chance for Lotus — which is used to playing on a much narrower field — turned into disaster when Vail Mountain quickly transitioned it out of its own end. Drew Johnson fed Rutley Heinemann on a give-and-go that saw Heinemann get the ball in the clear, dribble it into the box and slip it inside the far post with Alcantar-Barajas coming out to cut down the angle.

Lotus School For Excellence players Jesus Martinez, left, Abderazik Seid (22) and Jose Altamirano (12) react after the Meteors’ 2-0 loss to Vail Mountain in the Class 2A boys soccer state championship game on Nov. 12, 2022, at Switchbacks Weidner Field. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

A number of free kick chances were taken by Peraza in the closing minutes, but none found the mark. Geller made a diving save and smothered the loose ball on one opportunity to keep the Gore Rangers in the lead.

Alcantar-Barajas made a huge stop with just over seven minutes remaining to give the Meteors a chance to rally. Peraza’s free kick try with just over two minutes left went just wide to the right of a diving Geller.

Six starters from the lineup graduate, but Pang hopes the momentum of the last two seasons has now created something sustainable.

“We lost quite a few seniors last year, too, and there was some doubts as to whether we would still be successful,” he said. “Those will still be there going into next year. There will be turnover, but the tactics, the mindset and the approach to the game is being instilled in younger players coming up. There’s not reason to change our expectations.”

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports

2022 CLASS 2A BOYS SOCCER STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Nov. 12 at Switchbacks Weidner Field

(1) Vail Mountain 2, (6) Lotus School For Excellence 1

Score by halves:

Lotus SFE       1  0 — 1

Vail Mountain  0  2 — 2

SCORING

First half

Lotus School For Excellence — Abeneazer Getachew (Fredy Peraza), 7th minute

Second half

Vail Mountain — Javier Braun (Erik Jaerbyn), 62nd minute

Vail Mountain — Rutley Heinemann (Drew Johnson), 65th minute

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