Defending state champion and No.7-seed Notre Dame defeated Tucson Catalina Foothills, 2-1, (5-4 in penalty kicks) in the Division II semifinals Wednesday night, and have a chance to repeat as champions in Saturday's state championship match against Tucson Salpointe at 1 p.m. at Campo Verde High School.
Salpointe defeated No. 1 Glendale Apollo in the other semifinal match.
After two overtime periods without a score, the game went into a shootout, where the Saints' Luke Zaro put his team up 5-4 in penalty kicks with a shot that crossed the bottom corner of the net off a strong-side side kick from his right leg.
Saints goalie William Groves blocked the Falcons' ensuing penalty kick attempt, diving to his left to cover up the ball as his teammates rushed the field, and, eventually, covering him.
"For (goal)keepers, the only thing you can do is guess," Groves said. "It was a 50-50 chance. I went one way, saved it and got lucky. Thank God. That's pretty much it."
Trailing 1-0 and with a Falcons defense jamming the middle of the field to stifle the Saints' talented forwards and midfielders throughout the first half, Notre Dame struggled to create scoring opportunities, and missed the few they had.
The Saints looked outplayed throughout the first half. They gave up a goal in the game's first two minutes and relinquished possession of the ball throughout.
With barely 16 minutes left in regulation, however, Saints midfielder Michael Truty scored off a throw-in from nearly 30 yards out to tie it a 1-1.
Oddly enough, it was just the scenario the Saints had practiced leading up to the match.
"We haven't been down a lot," Saints coach Kenny Hack said. "It was the biggest thing that we concentrated on practice this week, being down a goal. We learned how to keep playing our game, not rush anything and just kick the ball up the field."
After a sluggish first half, one that Hack said his team was "not awake" for, the Saints relentlessly pressured the Falcons in the second half, and, conversely, averaged a goal-scoring opportunity every fourth minute after intermission.
Despite the attacks and numerous shots near goal were missed or thwarted, it was the most difficult shot of the match that found the net.
Truty, a senior who has played in national championships with his club team, spun a high-arching ball from near the sideline to the top of the goal into the net, just under the post.
"I'm calling for it, but when he gives me the ball my mindset is to turn and shoot immediately," said Truty, who made a similar game-saving shot in a win against Division I-Desert Vista earlier in the season. "If someone closes me I pass,but if I'm open I shoot and I have the range. When I was younger all I did was shoot. That's just me, I just love shooting."