With scores tied at 2-2 after full time, stand-in captain Vinod Kumar stole the ball in midfield and breezed past three defenders in the 104th minute before releasing it to Kiran, who powered it past goalkeeper Lalawm Puia to trigger erupted wild celebrations at the Sir M Visvesvaraya stadium.
But the superb win under a scorching sun was not achieved without drama. Twenty minutes into the second half, the hosts seemed to have assured themselves of the right to face Orissa in Sunday’s final when S Nagaraj added to Santosh’s first-half strike as Karnataka opened up a 2-0 lead.
Karnataka went ahead against the run of play. With Lalnunmawia arguing with referee Tusher Kanti Guha, R Mohan quickly took the free-kick and released it to M Lokesh, whose cross was tapped in by Santosh in the 24th minute.
A needless handball by Lalnunmawia gifted Karnataka a penalty and Nagaraj made full use of it in the 65th minute.
The courageous Mizoram lads, though, were not going out without a fight. Led wonderfully by captain Lalchhanchhuaha, they punished the defensive three-time champions with two well crafted goals that stunned the gathering. Lalchhanchhuaha reduced the lead in the 69th minute with a neat left-footer from the edge of the box before Laldam Puia latched onto a superb cross from J Lalhminghlua and slammed it home from close range for the equaliser.
While Karnataka made full use of the minimal chances they got, Mizoram never for a moment buckled under pressure. Despite trailing by two goals largely due to their own errors rather than Karnataka’s creativity, the visitors kept continuously thrusting forward, leaving the home defenders scrambling to keep them at bay.
The absence of first-choice midfielders Shankar and Sridhar M seemed to affect J Andrew’s lads as supplies were limited and Mizoram controlled the proceedings. Even so, Karnataka made the most of their chances and for that, they must get great credit.
Victory would have been more emphatic had Vinod not missed a sitter with three minutes left in extra time. Kiran dispossessed Chhuan Zika and drew custodian Lalawm Puia out of the 18-yard box before releasing it to unmarked Vinod, who stumbled under no pressure in front of an open goal.