LYNCHBURG, Va. — There were less than 10 seconds left in Saturday’s Virginia 4A state championship game, but that was all James Moreno needed.
A year ago, the Loudoun County senior would’ve done anything for just one second on this stage while he was at home rehabbing a badly injured hamstring, ruminating about where his soccer career was headed.
So he found an opening up field and waited for teammate Troy Sweeney to thread the needle. The game was scoreless, and Moreno had been quietly lurking all night against one of the state’s best defensive teams. This was the type of moment he returned to high school soccer for when he left D.C. United Academy two years ago — a chance to win the state championship in the final seconds.
When he received the ball on the run, a defender tugged on his jersey, and Midlothian’s goalkeeper met him a few feet in front of the goal. It didn’t matter. Moreno, as he did all spring, put the ball away to will his team victory.
He took his shirt off and ran around the field at Liberty University after the goal, prompting a short delay after his teammates piled on top of him in the corner. It was a trivial detail in the Raiders’ 1-0 win over Midlothian, which capped a remarkable season and clinched the school’s first boys’ soccer state title.
“This is my proudest moment,” Moreno said. “I knew that I just needed a little bit of space to get open. . . . I knew it was going to come at the end.”
Loudoun County (21-1-1) entered the season with a rebranded approach by its coach, Arni Sepehri, who adopted the credo “One Goal” and applied it to every situation possible. He got T-shirts with the two words stamped across the chest and the team’s logo ironed on top of a map of Virginia on the back. The idea was to put the program on the map.
One goal became a pursuit against a bruising and skilled side from Midlothian (19-2-1) that held the explosive Raiders to just four shots on goal. The best look came with about five minutes remaining, when Loudoun County’s Andy Levesque hit the crossbar with a daring 15-yard strike.
“They were the best defensive team that we have played, and we knew that walking into this game,” Sepehri said. “James is deadly once he’s in the 18-yard box.”
Moreno credited his teammates for helping him revive his high school career and for pushing him through what was an odd state championship game. The team had to sit around while the game was delayed for nearly three hours because of previous overtime matches at Liberty, and the Raiders looked out of rhythm as the sun set and planted wicked shadows on the field.
Still, it was an improbable end for Loudoun County. The Raiders finished the season with 10 straight wins, thanks in large part to a dominant back line that held foes to just three goals in that stretch and a juggernaut offense that produced 37 goals in the final six weeks of the season.
Moreno finished with 31 goals, with at least one in every playoff match. He was one of the last players to leave the field Saturday night, trailing behind some teammates and not looking like he was fully ready to leave high school soccer behind.
“This is the happiest I’ve ever been,” he said.