BROWNSVILLE — Nearly 20 years ago, Brownsville Lopez kicked down the door for the RGV’s boys soccer programs.

Led by head coach Amadeo Escandon, the Lobos became the first boys soccer team in Valley history to hoist the UIL state championship trophy, defeating Brenham 2-1 to capture the 2004 UIL Class 4A crown.

Lopez’s victory opened the floodgates for the rest of the Valley, with seven more area teams reaching the top of the mountain since then, including Hidalgo last year.

Two decades since their first and only state championship, the Escandon-led Lobos are primed to make another state title run this year, entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed from District 32-5A after capturing their first district title since 2018.

The Brownsville Lopez Lobos pose with the district championship trophy after defeating Donna North 5-0 during their regular season finale. (Ivan Palacios | RGVSports)

“Just like any other year, our first goal is to win district champs and then win state,” Lopez midfielder Jonathan Gomez said. “We already got district champs this year, so we’re looking forward to making that push for state.”

The Lobos opened the new campaign motivated by last year’s fourth-round playoff exit. Their fourth-round appearance marked Lopez’s return to the regional tournament for the first time since 2017.

A hungry and fired up Lobos squad flexed its muscles during the annual BISD Tournament, going undefeated during the three-day event to give them momentum heading into district play.

A 1-1-1 start to district play gave the Lobos a reality check early in the season, but Lopez responded with a championship mentality, reeling off 12 straight wins after that before seeing its streak snapped by Brownsville Porter at home.

Once again, the Lobos responded in championship fashion, bouncing back from their loss with a dominating 5-0 win over Donna North during their regular-season finale to secure their first district title in six years. Lopez finished as co-champions with Porter, with the Lobos earning the top spot thanks to a goal differential advantage.

Brownsville Lopez’s Pedro Gomez (4) attempts to shake a Donna North defender during a District 32-5A contest on March 11 at Bennie La Prade Stadium in Donna. (Andrew Cordero | Special to RGVSports)

“The confidence in our guys has changed,” Brownsville Lopez junior Ramon “Chacho” Zuniga said. “In the beginning of the year, if we were down, we’d probably yell at each other and fight. As the year progressed, we built this bond and have been able to come back from games. From coming back from being down 2-0 to Donna High or that last game against Donna North where we needed to win to win district, we’ve been able to go out there and come together as a team.”

The Lobos, who finished district play with a 14-2-2 mark, are led into the postseason by a dominant offensive attack and a relentless defense.

They outscored their opponents 62-19 during District 32-5A play, averaging 3.4 goals per game and allowing just 1.1 in arguably one of the toughest districts in the state.

“Playing in this district helps,” Gomez said. “It is really competitive. It helps us in the long run by showing us what we could go against up at state during the playoffs. That’s why we always have to go in to every game prepared. “

The Lobos are led into the postseason by a pair of prolific scorers in sophomore Diego Guerra and junior Ramon “Chacho” Zuniga. The dynamic duo ranks first and second in program history in single-season goals.

Zuniga, last year’s The Brownsville Herald/Valley Morning Star player of the year, set the program mark last season, netting 39 goals during the season. This year, Guerra broke that mark, finding paydirt 43 times thus far.

The one-two punch combined for 45 of the Lobos’ 62 goals during district play this year, with Guerra leading the way with 29 and Zuniga adding 16 despite missing action early on.

Left to right, Brownsville Lopez’s Diego Guerra and Ramon “Chacho” Zuniga. (Miguel Roberts | Brownsville Herald)

“We have created a good chemistry throughout the years,” Guerra said. “I think it forces the defense to either put two guys on me or two guys on Chacho. That really opens up space for us to score. This year has been unbelievable. I didn’t come into this season thinking I was going to break his record. I just went out there and played my game. The record just came.”

“Playing alongside Diego is amazing,” Zuniga added. “We’re able to complement each other. It is useful for both of us because we’re able to help each other and the team that way.”

With roughly 20 years having passed since Lopez’s last state title, this year’s Lobos feel the pressure of bringing another one home for their program.

The Lobos aren’t looking to just talk about it, however, with the team locked in on another state title run.

“Of course there is pressure playing Brownsville soccer, but there is pressure on everybody,” Guerra said. “I don’t think my team feels the pressure. I think even though we carry all of Brownsville on our back when we make a deep run, we carry it with pride, win or lose. At the beginning of the year we asked ourselves how badly we wanted it. Everyone is on the same page, but we still have to show the work. We can’t just say we want it. We have to go out there and prove it.”

The Lobos open the 2024 playoffs on the road against District 31-5A’s fourth-place team, the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Sharyland Pioneer High School.

“We know we have to leave it all on the field now,” Lopez’s Pedro Gomez said. “It’s either you give it your all or you’re out. Everyone is ready to put in their effort because it can be the difference between being our last game or a run to state.”

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