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ROGERS -- A season few predicted has unfolded for Rogers.

The defending state champions are headed back to the final after Willie Hernandez scored a penalty-kick goal less than two minutes into Saturday's semifinal match, and the Mounties' defense made it stand in a 1-0 victory over Little Rock Catholic on Saturday at Gates Stadium.

The Mounties will play Fort Smith Northside for the boys Class 7A state championship.

Rogers' Trey Keith was taken down in the Catholic box, and the Mounties were awarded a penalty kick. Hernandez got the call and drilled a low shot past the Catholic keeper into the left corner of the net.

"Usually I don't look at where I'm going to kick it, I just look at the ball and the keeper," Hernandez said. "I always do a football stance that the boys taught me that they do. And my side is always the left side, but I was really nervous because against Fayetteville, I had a PK and I missed it.

"So I was really nervous, but I had to put it in and placed it in the place where I usually do. And I think for their keeper, it would have been hard for him to get it."

Coming into the state tournament, Rogers was just 11-10-1 and had lost back-to-back matches to Springdale and Rogers Heritage. But the Mounties (14-10-1) have made all the right moves in the postseason and will have a chance to defend their title.

"This is very sweet," Rogers Coach Stephen Peck said. "We struggled in conference play and we were the fourth seed coming in, and now we're going to the championship game. That says a lot about this team and their heart."

Hernandez scored the match's only goal, but the Mounties were on the attack the entire match and peppered Rockets' keeper Armano Atilano with numerous shots, but the Catholic sophomore rose to the challenge.

Catholic's best chance at a goal came with just under two minutes left when the Rockets (13-6-1) sent a low shot into the goal, but Mounties' keeper Anthony Garcia stopped the shot. Rogers ran off the remaining time.

"No one thought we would be here," Peck told his team after the match. "But out of all the teams in the 7A-West, we're the only one that will be playing Saturday. You guys should be very proud of that, and proud to be the only team to lead Rogers to the state finals in back-to-back years."

Sports on 05/13/2018

Print Headline: Rogers finds groove in time to earn shot at repeat title

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