Titans soccer closes season with league title

Enter post season the sixth seed

By Than Acuff 

The Crested Butte Titans soccer team closed the season with a win over Ridgway and a tie with Telluride and a return to the 2A state tournament this weekend, this time as the sixth seed.

It took the Titans a while to shake off their extended break from action when they faced the Ridgway Demons on Thursday, October 19. Not only had they taken a week off from practices during the school’s October Break, but it had been 16 days since their last match, and it showed in the first half.

“After the break, we had three sessions before facing Ridgway and it took us a sec to get dialed back in,” says coach Matt Wilson. “We were missing a few players due to injuries and absences.”

Touches were heavy and misguided and the chances the Titans did get to score missed the mark. It wasn’t until the final five minutes of the first half when the Titans finally broke the seal on the Demons’ net as Sawyer Barney pushed the ball through the Ridgway back line to Eli Hulm and Hulm drove it into the far corner for a tight 1-0 lead at halftime.

“We were missing players in key attacking positions, and it took our offense the entire half to reconnect as a group,” says Wilson.  

Having shaken off the break the Titans got back to work in the second half as Shawn Moran scored in the opening five minutes. Ten minutes later Joe Syson jumped on a broken play to chip his shot calmly over the Demon goaltender and into the back of the net and Archer Bernholtz put Crested Butte up 4-0 finishing off a corner kick from Moran. Will Harpel had the final strike of the match as he drove a direct kick from 40 yards top shelf to punctuate the 5-0 win.

“Once the boys settled into their roles and responsibilities on offense, that’s when the floodgates really started to open,” says Wilson. “We also worked a lot on set plays during the sessions leading up to the Ridgway game and that’s how we scored the majority of our goals in the second half.”  

The win then set the stage for a thrilling conclusion to the regular season as the Titans hosted the Telluride Miners on Saturday, October 21 with the winner taking the league title. Both teams came into the game with league records of 6-0-1 with the two opponents playing to a 2-2 draw earlier in the season.

As to be expected, both teams came out battling and playing at maximum speed, but it was the Miners who struck first midway through the first half and held on for a 1-0 lead at halftime.

“Like any rivalry game between the top two teams in a conference, each team traded punches,” says coach Bradley Davies. “It proved a physical battle as we expected, and our Titans rose to the occasion with tremendous effort, besting Telluride on first and second balls.”  

With standout play from their back four and midfield three all game long, the Titans regrouped and refocused and struck back in the first five minutes of the second half as Moran took a pass from Harpel and turned to fire a shot through traffic and past the hands of the Miner goalie.

Crested Butte had a couple more chances throughout the rest of the game, as did Telluride, but neither team could break the tie before the final whistle. 

“Telluride’s best player had a terrific play that resulted in a goal,” says Davies. “The boys initially were rattled, but to their credit, quickly pivoted to embracing the fact that sometimes goals are scored despite quality defending, that we’d been down before to Telluride, and that we had been creating scoring chances, so a comeback was definitely in the cards.”

The draw left the league title up to some math. Following some serious number crunching the following day, it came down to the 11th tiebreaker scenario before Crested Butte was determined to be the league champion. The 12th tiebreaker was a coin flip.

Crested Butte now heads into the 2A state tournament as the sixth seed and will face 11th seeded Front Range Baptist on Friday, October 27 in the first round. If they win, the Titans advance to the quarterfinals on Saturday, October 28 to face either third seed Fountain Valley or 14th seed Heritage Christian. 

“The final piece of our team’s puzzle that will be crucial for us to master for our state tournament run, is delivering on details and also being more patient in our final, attacking third,” says Davies. “Overall though, we keep getting better and believe we still haven’t peaked, which is a real gift heading into post-season play.”

“The boys are most definitely ready for the state tournament,” adds Wilson. “Our mantra this year has been tenacity through teamwork, and although we’re on the young side, we do have some state tourney experience from our seniors, and we’ll be relying heavily on that experience as we go through the tournament.” 

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