The Warsaw star is likely to remember the one his noggin put in the back of the net Saturday night though for a long, long time.
A gorgeous goal, off a diving header no less, by Lopez was the game winner as the Class 2-A No. 2 Tigers won their fifth straight sectional championship.
Senior standout Lopez, he of the fancy feet and big right leg, scored all three goals as Warsaw used a strong second-half performance to turn back Culver Academies 3-1 in the title tilt of the Plymouth Sectional.
Warsaw advances to face South Bend St. Joseph (13-3-2) Thursday at 5 p.m. in the first semifinal match of the Class 2-A Mishawaka Regional. Penn (10-8) meets No. 12 Elkhart Central (15-2-1) in the Thursday finale at 7 p.m. The Thursday winners then square off for the regional championship on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
St. Joseph blanked South Bend Washington 6-0 Saturday night in the title match of its own sectional. Central defeated Concord 3-1 to win the Elkhart Memorial Sectional and Penn topped South Bend Riley 2-0 to claim the South Bend Adams Sectional crown.
The Tigers have not played South Bend St. Joseph or Elkhart Central this season. Warsaw did beat Penn 3-1 at home early in the regular season.
Warsaw, which lost in the semi state final a year ago, is 16-1-2 on the field, but officially 9-8-2. The Tigers, earlier this week, had to forfeit seven games and give up the NLC championship, due the fact that a reserve player saw action during the regular season when he was not yet eligible due to a clerical error by the Warsaw Athletic Department in regards to his transfer to WCHS.Lopez, one of nine seniors for Warsaw, netted a pair of second-half goals as the favored Tigers shook off the pesky Eagles who had forged a 1-1 stalemate at intermission.
Lopez, the diminutive forward who boasts big skills, put in the game winner with 23:34 to play. A tremendous cross by Zack Tucker to the far post found the head of a diving Lopez to make it 2-1. Lopez was not the only Tiger going for the ball as Ernesto Cuellar was diving for it right behind him on the play.
“Coach says to sell out on every cross and I did and I’m glad I did,” said Lopez. “I rarely have a header goal. I have no clue when my last one was. I was surprised it went in. It was crazy. I didn’t even see Tito behind me.
“I think that goal gave us more motivation. We fought well and I’m proud of my team. This feels great. I’m really happy to score the three goals. I felt a lot of pressure. But, we played a good game and it feels great to win the sectional again. It was hard on everyone what happened with the NLC. I think that gave us more motivation.”
Lopez, who appropriately enough was handed the game ball after the post game trophy presentation, added an insurance goal with 9:52 left in the contest as he cleaned up a ball not cleared deep in Culver’s end and boomed a rocket into the corner of the net.
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead exactly four minutes into the contest as Lopez took a perfect pass from Grant Allbritten and delivered his first goal. The Eagles, who finish at 9-8-1, tied it at 27:15 as senior Luther Jacobs got behind the Warsaw defense and finished.Warsaw had several good scoring chances in the opening half to try and take control, but could not finish.
The Tigers responded in the final half after a spirited halftime message from coach Scott Bauer.
“That was as spirited at half as I’ve been in a while,” said Bauer of his to-the-point talk to his team. “We just didn’t finish. We could have been up 3-0 in the first 20 minutes.
“I told the guys to show what they were made up in that second half against a team they should beat. I was pleased with their effort. They responded and got a couple of goals. We’re still in it and I look forward to the regional.
“Diego played a wonderful game. That header was a beautiful goal. He sold out on it for his team. That might be one of his first headers. That’s not normally how he scores goals. That was an important goal because it opened it up.
“This was probably the most important sectional we’ve won. We lost our first jewel in the NLC championship and if we didn’t win this we would have nothing to show for the season. I felt the pressure to win. I wanted these kids to get something for all the hard work they’ve put into this season.”
Warsaw had a 10-4 advantage in shots and 7-0 in corner kick opportunities. Senior keeper Michael Yantz had four saves for the Tigers.
Warsaw has not outscored its 19 opponents 57-8 this season. The Tigers, whose lone loss on the field was a 1-0 setback to Fort Wayne Carroll, has now won 11 sectional championships.