Overtime goal sends Chattanooga Red Wolves to USL League One semifinals

Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Chattanooga Red Wolves defenders Josue España (11) and Daniel Navarro (right, leaping) help deny a Union Omaha corner kick in the first half of Saturday's USL League One playoff matchup at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge.

For the second year in the row, the Chattanooga Red Wolves conjured up some late magic to win a USL League One playoff match at home.

In the 101st minute of action Saturday night at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge, Rafa Mentzingen scored in the first overtime period as the Red Wolves earned a 1-0 victory against 2021 league champion Union Omaha.

Mentzingen was strong on his feet as he managed to power through a slide tackle challenge and then dribbled up to the top right side of the penalty arc to power his shot past diving Omaha keeper Rashid Nuhu for the lone goal.

Jimmie Villalobos provided the assist to help Chattanooga, which was 12-11-7 in the regular season, clinch a spot in the semifinals.

"Every game has its story and every game has its hero," Mentzingen said. "This was an exciting game, and I am happy I could score a goal. He kicked me hard, but I had to stay up and take the shot. The rest is history. Carlos (Àvilez) was outstanding tonight in goal and has been all season.

"We put in a great shift. We want to bring a trophy back to this great city."

No. 4 seed Chattanooga will now travel to take on regular-season champion Richmond (14-7-9) at 6 p.m. next Saturday in Viriginia. The Red Wolves went 1-1-1 against the No. 1 seed in the regular season, with Chattanooga getting a 1-0 win at home, a 3-0 road defeat and a 2-2 home draw.

Chattanooga's Àvilez was sensational in the Saturday's first-round victory, especially in the first half when he made three impressive saves on missile-like shots by the visitors. He finished with five saves.

The Red Wolves strung together impressive attacks in the 20th and 22nd minutes as Villalobos just missed a shot high off a strong connection with Rey Ortiz. Ernesto Espinoza nearly scored two minutes later after a blazing run by Josue España set up his shot on the right side.

Juan Galindrez missed a sliding shot in the box in the second half, while Aaron Lombardi also laced a shot that went just over the cross bar.

Each team had six shots in the match, with five of those for Omaha coming in the first half.

Mentinzgen's magical moment sealed the deal as the Red Wolves' defense preserved a clean sheet for the final three minutes of the first overtime and the second 15-minute period of extra soccer.

"They kept working hard and believe in one another," acting Chattanooga coach Jimmy Weekley said. "They are very coachable guys. I am just really proud of them and the effort they put forth tonight. We knew it was going to be a grinder, and that was exactly what it was.

"Have you seen Rafa's quads? He did a great job. He battled through that moment, and he had a clean look and he finished it. I am really proud of him and all of our guys for making our final match at home a magical one."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.