Harlingen tops La Joya in penalty kicks to win bi-district bout

La Joya High's Jose Borrego (10) and Harlingen High's Gael Zuniga (11) battle for a ball during their Region IV-6A bi-district playoff game at La Joya High school stadium Monday, March 25 2024 in La Joya, Tx. (Delcia Lopez| [email protected])

LA JOYA — Harlingen High goalkeeper Juan Zapata came up with two saves during penalty kicks and Chris Cantu converted the go-ahead score as the Cardinals defeated the La Joya High Coyotes 4-3 in penalty kicks during their Region IV-6A bi-district playoff game Monday at La Joya Pack Stadium.

Harlingen’s Carlos Garcia, Jeremiah Tome and Jerry Martinez also made good on their penalty kicks to help send the Cardinals into the area round.

Harlingen will meet Laredo United in Round 2. Game details are to be determined.

“The two that we stopped, I told my goalie those two guys go that way from what I’ve seen. He listened and things were on our side tonight,” Harlingen head coach Joseph Johnson said. “Shoutout to our guys going 4-for-5 (in penalty kicks). They didn’t want to make it too easy and make it 5-for-5, put some pressure on our last guy but he stepped up and got it done.”

Harlingen High’s Myles Lerma, left, battles for control of the ball against La Joya’s Brandon Sauceda, right, during a bi-district game at La Joya High school stadium Monday, March 25 2024 in La Joya, Tx. (Delcia Lopez| [email protected])

The Cardinals and Coyotes needed PKs to decide a winner after playing to a 3-3 tie after 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of extra time.

The Coyotes jumped in front early after a Mauricio Maldonado goal for a 1-0 lead.

The Cardinals played from behind before answering back with goals from Nereo Nunez in the 47th minute and Jeremiah Tome in the 59th.

La Joya tied things at 2-2 after Brandon Sauceda drew a penalty and Thom Torres stepped in to score in the 65th minute.

In the 68th minute, Harlingen’s Garcia led Angel Sanchez with a nice pass in the box and he sent it home for a 3-2 Cardinals lead.

Harlingen High’s Gael Zuniga gets past La Joya’s Brandon Flores during a bi-district game at La Joya High school stadium Monday, March 25 2024 in La Joya, Tx. (Delcia Lopez| [email protected])

The Coyotes clawed their way back into it with a goal from the speedy Sauceda in the 77th minute to provide some late game drama before the Cardinals claimed the victory in penalty kicks.

“Wouldn’t want it any other way. Obviously, we would like to win 5-0 and not have to worry about anything, but these are the games that you need to go into the second round with,” Johnson said. “All the credit goes to the boys for fighting back, trusting what we did, made some adjustments during halftime and things worked out for us. Of course, we would like to keep a lead once we get it twice, but it’s part of it. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys and their hard work and effort and listening to the things that we say. It paid off.”

La Joya was the No. 2 seed from District 31-6A and finishes its season 10-8-4.

District 32-6A’s No. 3 seed Harlingen High improves to 18-11 on the year and moves on to the area round of the playoffs.