Set to play Saturday in Denver
By Than Acuff
It wasn’t easy but the Crested Butte Titans soccer team got it done winning back-to-back 2A state tournament games last weekend to push through to the semifinals where they face Denver Christian in Denver on Saturday, November 4.
After finishing the regular season 10-2-3, the Titans earned the sixth seed and faced the 11th seed Front Range Baptist Falcons out of Fort Collins on Friday, October 27.
“We went into the game with little knowledge of who they were or how they played so we just focused on what we could control, which was playing our style of soccer, playing for each other, and competing as a unit and not as individuals,” says coach Matt Wilson.
Despite this being the first state game for a lot of the young Titans, they showed no signs of nerves and came out immediately looking to set the tone. While the Falcon defense was tight and their midfield hardworking, the Titans continued to push scoring 21 minutes into the game when Eli Hulm finished off a long cross from Wyatt Cook.
Seven minutes later Joe Syson threaded a ball across to Will Harpel and Harpel drove his shot into the top shelf for a 2-0 lead. Magnus Sandusky then closed the first half in fine form when Shawn Moran slipped the ball through traffic to Sandusky and he tapped it past the Falcon goalie for a 3-0 lead at halftime.
“The boys were fired up to compete, especially when they saw the amazing condition of the pitch, so they just went out and did what they’ve done all season,” says Wilson. “They just played with confidence, poise and professionalism and took care of business in that first half.”
No lead is safe in playoff soccer and the Titans made a point of building on their lead early in the second half. The fourth goal from the Titans came when a corner kick from Marin Gardner tipped off the keeper’s hands and in for a 4-0 lead.
The Falcons did earn a penalty kick off a hand ball and converted midway through the second half, but the game was well in hand for the Titans as they finished off the 4-1 win to move on to the quarterfinals.
“We were very happy with the result, but we also knew the next game was going to be a battle, no matter who we were going to play,” says Wilson.
The Titans then awaited their fate as the Heritage Christian Eagles faced host school and third seed Fountain Valley in the second game that day. After a full match and one full overtime, Heritage Christian scored in the second overtime to upset Fountain Valley 3-2 and set the stage for the quarterfinal match on Saturday, October 28.
“We were able to watch their first-round game, so had a good idea of their shape, set pieces and style,” says coach Bradley Davies. “Their specific strengths were their commitment to team defense, winning first and second balls and their effectiveness on set pieces.”
In their match with the Eagles, the Titans faced a much bigger team but, once again, they seemed unfazed by the size of their opponent and the fact that a loss would end their season.
Crested Butte immediately looked to dictate play and while the Eagles brought a physical game to the field, Crested Butte fought back and moved the ball to establish possession mixing in long balls for Kai Greene to battle with the Eagles’ defense.
The mix of short and long passes eventually paid off when Greene chased down a long ball to fire a shot off. The Eagle goalie made the initial save but the Titans followed on the rebound only to hit the post. The third time was the charm though as Moran was there for the second rebound and tucked it home for a 1-0 lead that held until halftime.
“We were very good in the first half, creating a number of scoring chances and dominating first and second balls by a 2x margin,” says Davies. “That said, Heritage always seemed a threat so 1-0 felt fair, though the game was far from a done deal.”
Heritage Christian came out in the second half looking to unlock the Titans play bringing the game to a new level. Both teams had chances but neither broke through until Heritage converted on a set piece to tie the game 1-1 with 12 minutes left in regulation. While the game-tying goal could have proved to be a massive momentum swing, the Titans did not flinch and finished strong as the game went into overtime.
“While we were all disappointed to concede the goal, it was impressive to see our Titans respond proactively,” says Davies. “It was great to see the fellas dig the ball out of the back of the net and get right back to work.”
Heritage Christian had a chance to end the Titans’ season in the first overtime, but keeper Joseph Sudderth made a huge save to deny the shot in close leaving the teams to play a second overtime.
The deciding goal came five minutes into the second overtime when Gardner got on the end of a set piece from Cook and slipped it to Moran just inside the edge of the 18-yard box. Moran turned and fired his shot into the far corner to win the game and send the Titans onto the semifinal round.
“The reality is that we have some super tough Titans who are committed to fighting for each other and supporting each other in difficult times,” says Davies. “To have won a battle of a double OT game, they are no longer the ‘younger’ group of guys we began working with in August, but rather, true veterans poised to make this final ascent.”
Crested Butte will head to Denver to face Denver Christian at DPS All-City Stadium on Saturday, November 4 at 12:30 p.m. The winner of that game goes on to the state title game at Widener Field in Colorado Springs on Saturday, November 11. The Titans fell a game short last year losing in the semifinals.
“If we do what we have proven we are capable of, our Titans will place themselves in a great position to succeed,” says Davies. “It will be very difficult, but I wouldn’t rather be with any other group as we chase this dream.”