On to the title game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
by Than Acuff
The dream continues for the Crested Butte Titans boys soccer team as they battled to a 2-1 win over Denver Christian in the state semifinal game. Now they are headed to the 2A state championship match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday, November 10 at 4 p.m.
As winter looked to take hold of the north end of the valley with snow flurries and cold temperatures, the Titans continued with their workouts to prepare for the game against the Denver Christian Thunder.
The team headed off for Denver Friday morning and, thanks to the work of athletic director Jarrod Hinton and the generosity of Englewood High School, the team got one final practice in on Friday afternoon to get a little more accustomed to playing on a massive turf field.
With the team breakfast Saturday out of the way and an hour and a half to kill before heading to the field, assistant coach Bob Piccaro had an idea and the kids immediately took to the plan using some down time to “pop some tags.”
“The thrift store relaxed us all,” says senior captain Tommy Linehan. “Our whole season has been serious, but fun, and it helped take our mind off how big of a game it was.”
Arriving at All-City stadium, the energy was electric as Telluride was in the midst of a comeback against Fountain Valley in the other semifinal game while the Titans and Denver Christian tried to focus on warming up for their game. The Telluride game ended up going to overtime with Telluride winning and the Titans took the field for their showdown with the Thunder.
“When we got there, it was definitely a feeling that this is the big time, kind of do or die,” says Linehan. “At that point, the nervousness kicked in.”
Denver Christian looked to bring the thunder in the opening 10 minutes with physical play, while the Titans remained calm working the ball around the onslaught of hits. Kye Matlock was the first victim as a bone-jarring hit from a Denver Christian defender left Matlock injured on the turf. A minute went by and Matlock popped up ready to play and the message was sent to Denver Christian that no matter how hard they hit, the Titans would always get back up.
“At the beginning we were a little surprised by the amount of physical play but as the game went on we got more physical and scrappy and it came down to will,” says Linehan.
Despite an obvious advantage in possession, the Titans stalled in the attacking third as the Thunder played a noticeably packed defense to shut off any chances on net. But the Titans stuck to their plan to dictate their game.
“One of the main things was knowing our roles and what we needed to do for the team’s success,” says Linehan. “Our communication allowed us to all get on the same page—passes were better and that relaxed us.”
Denver Christian then got a break when a failed clear landed at one of their player’s feet and he pushed it past Slater Weil for the 1-0 Thunder lead that they would carry into halftime.
Down at halftime was nothing new to the Titans and they continued with their game plan in the second half. With Nathan Miller pressuring the Thunder midfielders at every touch, loose balls were collected and distributed accordingly. The turnaround came 10 minutes into the second half when Linehan chipped the ball over the top to Gaby Marmolejo. Marmolejo fought off two Thunder defenders and tipped the ball past the oncoming keeper to tie the game 1-1.
“That was huge,” says Linehan. “It showed that all of our control in the first half was paying off and that goal took any last nerves off us and we could really play our game.”
Denver Christian adjusted to open up more of a team attack but the back three of Zane Reda, Owen Berv and Finn Smith remained in their shape to shut off all attacks. With the Titans looking to build an attack and Denver Christian looking to break open their attack, the two teams traded off blows with no true threats on net, yet the Titans remained resolute in their effort.
“There was a feeling that if we just keep playing our game, one would go in,” says Linehan.
That one came with three minutes left in the game as Carlos Franco took a pass and crossed it to the far post. Josias Navarrete crashed in from the flank to settle the cross and punch it past the Denver Christian goalie for a 2-1 lead.
The Titans held off one last surge from Denver Christian to seal the win as the players poured onto the field in celebration, earning a trip to the 2A state finals.
“We knew we were outworking and outplaying them and if we scored in the last five minutes, great,” says Linehan. “The thought of overtime never really crossed my mind but we knew we could take them in overtime if needed.”
“It was great work by the team against a strong squad,” says coach Bob Piccaro. “One more to go.”
The Titans are headed back to Denver this weekend for the state finals on Saturday, November 10 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park at 4 p.m. against Telluride. The community school will host a live broadcast of the game in the MPR on Saturday at 4 p.m.
“The keys are everybody filling their role, on their game and going with everything you have from the minute the whistle blows,” says Linehan. “Having them react to us, not us reacting to them.”