Columbus High junior Ivan Rios-Lopez admitted after Saturday's match that the Discoverers have felt perhaps disrespected, or at the least, overlooked at the 2019 state soccer tournament.
For fans that have been paying attention to the last three days, Rios-Lopez and Columbus have given any remaining non-believers a very loud wake up call.
Rios-Lopez scored twice on set pieces and Columbus took down Lexington 2-1, sending the Discoverer boys soccer program to just its second-ever final match on Monday against Omaha Skutt, a 2-0 winner over Crete in the game prior.
"They call us sleepers," he said. "They were sleeping on us."
Rios-Lopez scored in the 13th minute on a corner kick sent in by teammate Adrian Pedroza. He added his second of the day, and third of the state tournament, in the 36th minute on another set piece pass from Pedroza, this one a free kick from 30 yards out.
Rios-Lopez collected a loose ball at the back post on his first goal then scored his second on another header following his game-winning headed shot from Thursday.
The junior now has 23 goals on the season, one short of the single-season program mark set by Eric Mueller in 1990, and owns the school record for goals in a career. He passed Ryan Stamm (1992-1995) with his 35th goal as a Discoverer on Thursday.
"It's just hype," Rios-Lopez said about the feeling afterwards. "I can't wait to play in the finals.
"I always wanted to score here, and to have three goals in two games is amazing."
Columbus' win comes 19 days after Lexington essentially embarrassed the Discoverers in a matchup of top-five ranked teams. The Minutemen scored in the first 10 minutes in the match played at Wilderness Park and went on to a 5-1 win, controlling play start to finish.
Saturday was almost a complete reversal. Though Columbus only won by a goal, the Discoverers dominated play for the first 40 minutes and dictated the action for at least half of the second half before Lexington was forced to push up the field and chase the tying goal.
Columbus earned four corner kicks in the first 10 minutes then capitalized on the fifth.
Pedroza sent in a ball on line for Garrett Esch who's leaping attempt just missed making solid contact with the ball. But when the ball came out the other side, Rios-Lopez was waiting.
"I saw it go over Garrett's head, I'm like, 'OK, he missed it. I'm going to crash back post,' and I did and it just landed at my foot," Rios-Lopez said. "I just put my foot to it."
Pedroza followed with a shot on goal two minutes later, Kevin Palma-Lopez forced a save from the Lexington keeper in the 16th minute and Columbus created another corner kick in the 25th minute. It took until the 27th minute before Lexington made an attempt, and that went well high over the crossbar.
"I think we just came out with a lot more energy. We just did not have much energy in (the previous game in) Columbus," coach John Arlt said. "And obviously, scoring early helps a ton, and we played off our emotion."
A Lexington foul from 30 yards out on the right wing set up the match-winning goal. Pedroza curled in a cross that, in an almost identical play from Thursday, arrived right at Rios-Lopez's location.
His headed goal in the victory over Omaha Gross also came from the right half of the zone though from 10 yards further out and delivered by Antonio Jimenez. Regardless, the result was the same.
"I told the team, I kind of have a bad hamstring, so don't give me those through balls," Rios-Lopez said. "Give me those balls in the air. I'll get to those."
Lexington answered just a minute later when Columbus had three chances to move the ball out of danger but never quite put enough force on clearing attempts.
Even so, the Minutemen hardly celebrated and never looked comfortable. Was this really the same group they had dominated 5-1?
"Our motivation was way up. We wanted to come out and beat these guys because they embarrassed us the first time," Rios-Lopez said. "We weren't going to let that happen again.
"I wasn't going to let that happen again."
The second 40 minutes included yellow cards for Pedroza and Jesus Baro and three saves from keeper Alex Morales but no real Lexington scoring opportunities.
When Morales was run into in the 69th minute retrieving a ball near the edge of the box, the Minutemen went down a man with a red card on the play.
Lexington's last gasp came on a corner in the 77th minute. It took a deflection toward goal but harmlessly bounced to Morales. He booted it to the other end where it stayed for the final whistle.
"I've been doing this for 10 years, and I've always said, 'Let's get to the finals, that will take care of itself.' We have played very loose, and I hope we can continue to play that way," Arlt said. "Now, once again, it's the first time in the finals in 10 years, and the school hasn't had an athletic championship in close to 30 years."
Columbus was 1-6 all time in semifinal matches before Saturday. Lexington was 0-3 and now 0-4.
The Discoverers only other championship appearance was a 1-0 overtime loss to Scotus Central Catholic in 2009. Columbus is now 3-0 against Lexington in the state tournament.
The last time Columbus High School won a state championship in a traditional team sport (baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball) was the 1972 boys basketball state champions.
The volleyball team played for a title in 2004. Girls soccer was in the 2005 state championship match.
"Win it for the school, but win it for yourselves, too," Arlt said about what his message will be to the team. "I think from a school standpoint, we're going to have a great crowd here. They really seem like they're playing for their teammates.
"One thing I've said before, we may not have the most talented team this year, but this is probably the closest group we've had. I think it's showing."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.