BLACKFOOT — Blackfoot seniors Junior Labra and Coque Velasquez wore wristbands with personal messages Wednesday to not only commemorate the triumph over struggle, but to embrace it.
“My dreams will come true, Mama, Papa. I promise” Velasquez’s read. Labra’s wrote the name of his uncle, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
And indeed Blackfoot did overcome struggles — both personal and technical — to beat Century during the 4A District 6 boys soccer championship. Tied 3-3 after regulation and two extra periods, Blackfoot won its third district title under coach Liam Pope in dramatic fashion: 4-2 in penalty kicks. It was the Broncos’ first district title since 2012, and it snapped a two-year streak of losing to Century in the title game.
The deciding kick was by Labra, kissing his wristband and his eyes bloodshot from tears well after being dogpiled by his teammates.
“I’m so proud of you,” his family told him, and hugging him, as Labra sat on the field just moments after his kick secured a state playoff berth for Blackfoot.
“I just know I had to be confident in myself,” Labra said. “We worked so hard this whole season. We didn’t come this whole way, win every game, play our hardest for nothing. We’re not going to go out with nothing.
“I have an uncle who’s going through a tough time right now … and all my games I play from now on are for him,” Labra added.
Velasquez played an important role, too. He scored two goals during the tightly-contested rivalry match, both coming in the 60th and 64th minutes. Playing with raw emotion throughout the match, he performed a celebratory backflip after his first goal evened the match at 2-2.
Velasquez’s second gave Blackfoot a late lead before Cole Roske scored in a scrum for Century around the 74th minute.
Velasquez, who plays for his deceased grandmother and little brother, said he will hold onto Blackfoot’s emotional victory “for his family.”
“It’s emotional because all of us have dreamed of this,” Velasquez said. “Honestly, it was almost a flashback of what happened last year. And it could’ve easily gone south, just like last year, but we all dedicated ourselves into taking this. We put so much heart into this.”
With the Broncos on the attack during the majority of the match, Century’s backline and goal keeper, Kamran Dailami, had a valiant effort.
Blackfoot dominated in almost every statistical category and possessed the ball the most in a rematch of last year’s 4A Distrcit 6 championship.
The Broncos outshot the Diamondbacks 38-9; had 13 more corners (16-3) and had more shots on goal (21) than Century had shots total.
Dailami finished with six saves including back-to-back saves in the extended period to force penalty kicks.
But after both teams swapped goalies, Blackfoot scored four-straight PKs to advance to its fourth-straight state appearance. This time, as the first seed.
“Don’t let them take this away from you,” an emotional Pope said before halftime ended. The Broncos and Diamondbacks were tied 1-1 after Daniel Martinez and Connor Slack scored for their team, respectively.
No, Blackfoot didn’t allow the other team — the same one that ended their hopes for a district title the last two years — to take Wednesday’s emotional win away.
“Part of what I love about it, a lot of these kids have been varsity players, either starters or varsity squads since they were freshmen, and so to be able to give the seniors that is…” said Pope, beginning to choke up. “Is, uh, pretty cool.”