Late game heroics send Titans soccer to 2A state finals

“We overwhelmed them finally”

[ by Than Acuff ]

After winning its quarterfinal state tournament game in overtime, the Crested Butte Titans soccer team saved their heroics for late in the game once again scoring two goals in the final two minutes to defeat the Ridgway Demons 2-1 in the semifinals. The win sends the Titans to the 2A state championship game to face the Lotus School for Excellence on Saturday, November 13 at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs.

The Demons are a familiar foe as Crested Butte and Ridgway played each other twice during the regular season. While the Titans cruised to a 5-0 win early in the season, Ridgway brought a much more tactical game to the second contest but the Titans managed to eke out a 1-0 win in the final three minutes of the game.

But taking down a strong opponent for a third time would be the toughest challenge of all and the Titans made an effort to fine-tune some things for the semifinal game.

“We worked on beating their trapping pressure style against us when we move the ball out from the D and then trying to get more creative up top to penetrate their D more effectively,” says coach Bob Piccaro.

The first half was slow and methodical for both teams as the midfield battled for supremacy with Brendan Hartigan, Baden Garmhausen and Jamis Matlock going toe-to-toe with Ridgway’s middle three trying to open the game up in the attacking third. Crested Butte got a look on net in the 18th minute when Kaiden Marziano took a pass from Jamis Matlock behind Ridgway’s back four but his shot was denied.

Grayson White had a similar look the other way but his shot rolled just wide of the far post and the two teams were embroiled in a stalemate.

Ridgway cracked the seal on the Titans net in the 28th minute when their striker seized on a defensive miscue to steal the ball and poke it past goalkeeper Cedar Fessenden for a 1-0 Ridgway lead.

The Titans didn’t panic though and continued with their game plan. The only problem was, they were executing it at about 60-percent speed rather than ramping up the pace.

“I do not think we were playing with the intensity we needed in the first half, especially up top,” says Piccaro. “The team reacted ok to the goal, but still did not take their game to the next level in the first half.”

Down 1-0 at the half, there was plenty of time left and the Titans looked to pick things up in the second half using their deep bench in an effort to wear down Ridgway.

“We didn’t make any changes to begin with,” says Piccaro. “But as time was ticking down, we had to shift more people up top and rely on two midfielders in the middle to cover a lot of ground.”

The Demons defense and midfield remained stout and Crested Butte’s efforts on attack were often thwarted by Ridgway’s back four. Time started to slip away from Crested Butte and they remained down 1-0 with 10 minutes left in regulation and the Demons circling the wagons to hold on for the win.

The Titans continued to press and got a couple good looks on the Ridgway net but the Demon keeper made the needed saves and other attempts flew wide or high of the Ridgway goal.

“I absolutely thought the game was slipping away with 10 to go,” says Piccaro. “We finally stepped up our intensity as a team, some had it the whole game, and kept pressuring and we stayed to our system and did not panic.”

Down to the final two minutes, the game was looking bleak and while Crested Butte was on full attack, Ridgway had it packed in to hold them off.

Then, a quick combination down the right flank gave Ace Gaither the step he needed and he placed a long cross to the far post for Jacob Bernholtz to stuff in tying the game 1-1 with 1:48 on the clock.

Crested Butte kept pushing and after turning away a quick breakaway by Ridgway, Fessenden set up a quick goal kick out to Otto Billingsley. Two passes later, Gaither was a step ahead on the flank and he sent another cross into the 18-yard box and Bernholtz rose up above two Demon defenders to head the game winner in with 15 seconds left in regulation sending the Titans to the 2A state finals.

“The key was staying to our game plan, just with the intensity they should have had since the beginning,” says Piccaro. “We overwhelmed them finally.”

The Titans will face the Lotus School for Excellence in the finals. Lotus advanced after taking down Fountain Valley 5-2 in the other semifinal.

“We better have a whole lot more in the tank because the other team looks good, fast with some skilled players,” says Piccaro. “They’re coming off a big win against Fountain Valley, they will be pumped up.”

Kick off is at 9 a.m. Saturday, November 13 and the game can be viewed on nfhsnetwork.com.

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