Hughson (12-11-1) was seeded sixth, but gave Southern League champion and No. 3 seed Delhi (20-3-3) all it could handle.
“It was a back-and-forth, fast-paced game,” Lopez said. “We were right there with them. It was an even game, super intense.”
The Huskies were minus three starters on defense because of injuries and a personal family issue. Still, they pushed the Hawks, who are now 9-0-1 at home this season.
Delhi opened the scoring with a penalty kick early in the first half. The score remained 1-0 until 10 minutes into the second half when Hughson senior midfielder Ernie Mendoza curled a free kick over four defenders and past the Delhi goalie. That tied the score at 1-1 and gave Hughson’s sideline a big lift.
“He’s a guy I’m comfortable with taking that kick,” Lopez said. “I saw the fire in Ernie’s eyes. He played incredible.”
Despite a frantic pace the rest of the way, neither team could find the net again in regulation time. Hughson goalie John Rodriguez made some key saves while the Huskies’ Cesar Ramos just barely missed a header after a long throw-in pass from Aiden Damas.
Tied at 1-1, the match went into overtime, in which the teams played two more 10-minute periods.
Hughson struck first in OT. Larkin Meyer – who never came off the field – gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead with a goal early in the first period, punctuating an impressive performance by the senior.
“He was unstoppable all night,” Lopez said. “He played all 80 minutes of regulation and all of overtime. He was nonstop against their defenders. It was inspiring to watch him go and never quit.”
An unfortunate error on defense allowed Delhi to tie the score at 2-2 in the first overtime. A Hughson defender trying to clear the ball instead kicked it into the Huskies’ net, resulting in an own goal.
“That was hard for us,” admitted Lopez.
Given new life, Delhi responded with three goals in the second overtime to win going away.
“Once they scored to go up on us, we started to send everybody up, which left us more vulnerable at the back, which helped them score more goals,” Lopez said.
Despite the disappointing finish, it turned out to be a positive season for Hughson. The Huskies struggled early, but got hot when the Trans-Valley League season began and, at one point, shut out six of seven opponents. They ended up third in the TVL standings while making the playoffs for the third year in a row.
“We had some ups and downs,” Lopez said. “I think the first half was different than second half, when we put all the pieces together. As a coach, I got to witness their growth, which was huge. It definitely didn’t end up on the side we wanted to be on, but I’m super proud of the boys.”