Titans soccer battles the way to 2A state final

Two OTs and a shootout

By Than Acuff 

Broadway the hard way.

After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, including two overtime periods, the Crested Butte Titans took down the Denver Christian Thunder in a penalty shootout to push on to the 2A state final match.

Denver Christian knocked off a couple of heavy hitters on their side of the state bracket and the Titans expected quite a challenge out of the Thunder squad.

“We knew that Denver Christian was an aerial powerhouse from the Front Range and was going to be our toughest challenge to date,” says coach Matt Wilson. “They were all fast and strong, incredibly difficult to break down defensively, and were extremely dangerous out of the air from set pieces and throw-ins inside our defensive half.”

It was a tough first half for the Titans as Denver Christian set the tone with heavy pressure in the midfield and dominating possession while Crested Butte struggled to find their bearings.

Fortunately, the Titans have spent a season building their foundation for success with defense and were able to stave off numerous attacks by the Thunder. In addition, Titans goalie Joseph Sudderth came up with a couple of big saves and the game remained scoreless at halftime.

“We initially came out of the gate swinging, but Denver Christian was smart and closed down passing lanes forcing us to play quicker than we would like to in tight areas,” says Wilson. “That led to us rushing our decisions, and as a result, we weren’t able to move the ball through the middle of the pitch like we had planned. They outplayed us in the first half. Simple as that.”

The Titans came out in the second half more organized looking to crack the seal on Denver Christian’s defense, but the Thunder back line was well-organized and left little for the Titans to work with.

“Going into halftime we were still very confident that our game plan was going to work, because we saw glimpses of success in the first half,” says Wilson. “We just needed our midfielders to find their rhythm and be more consistent in getting us into the attacking third of the pitch.” 

Denver Christian continued to press resulting in numerous shots on goal, numerous corner kicks and creating several opportunities off their dangerous long throws. The Titans held tight though and Sudderth continued to stand on his head in net with some help coming from the crossbar. Things unraveled for the Titans midway through the second half when Crested Butte lost a starting defender to a red card leaving them to play a man down the remainder of the game.

Things were looking grim for Crested Butte down a man against a strong opponent and the coaches called on the remaining back three of Rocco Billingsley, Jordan Silva and Archer Bernholtz to do the job of four. Meanwhile, the midfield corps of Marin Gardner, Shawn Moran, Will Harpel and Beckett Kidd were called upon to raise their effort in the middle of the field with Joe Syson, Eli Hulm and Sawyer Barney forced to cover even more acreage on the flanks while striker Kai Greene was left to fend for himself against five Thunder defenders.

“All season long the boys have displayed this unwavering level of determination, focus, and professionalism on the pitch,” says Wilson. “They’re also insanely committed to each other and to the team, and they did not let the red card rattle their cage at all. Business as usual.”

The Titans hung in by the skin of their teeth and did produce two breakaway opportunities, but the Thunder goalie made the needed stops and the two teams headed into overtime with the first team scoring winning the game.

Sudderth continued to come up massive in net with additional saves down the stretch and the Titans buried themselves playing a man down for an additional 30 minutes to then leave the game’s result down to penalty kicks.

It was here that Sudderth put the icing on the cake of what was an incredible performance in net. Sudderth stopped two Denver Christian penalty kicks while Barney, Harpel, Moran and Greene all buried their attempts for the Titans’ win.

“The difference between winning and losing that game cannot be found on any stat sheet,” says Wilson. “Instead, you’ve got to look at the mindset of a team, and the intangibles each player brings to the table. Our boys wholeheartedly believe they can compete with any team out there if they just play for each other. They are all fierce competitors with a very professional attitude, and that was on full display down the stretch playing a man down for 45 minutes and still finding the courage and energy to win in penalty kicks.”

The Titans now get out of the frying pan and into the fire as they face fourth seeded Bishop Machebeuf in the 2A state finals. Bishop got down to business in their semifinal game taking down Telluride 6-0 and will present a new challenge for the Titans squad.

“It’s the ultimate puzzle to solve, isn’t it?,” says Wilson. “Bishop is very technically sound and can hurt you from anywhere in your defensive half of the pitch using through balls and off the ball runs to get in behind. We’ve seen this nice and tidy style of possession before, so it’s nothing new. We are very organized defensively, and our offense is intelligent and patient with the pace to get in behind any defensive line. It’s going to be a battle for every inch on Saturday, and we can’t wait to see the boys rise to the occasion.”

The game is on Saturday, November 11 at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs. Kickoff is at 9 a.m. The game will be broadcast on nfhsnetwork.com and a WESA watch party will be held at the CBCS multipurpose room at 9 a.m.

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