The Steamboat Springs soccer team believed it was one of Colorado's top 16 teams heading into its regional game against Greeley Central.
Thursday, the Sailors backed it up on the field, defeating the Wildcats 2-1 behind a second-half effort led by seniors who refused to lose.
"This is definitely the best game we've played this year," senior Harry Packer said. "We came out with more passion for sure in the second half, and we beat a very good team."
Steamboat's next opponent and game site are undetermined. The Class 4A regionals conclude this weekend. A state committee will then seed the final 16 teams, including Steamboat, for the next round of the state playoffs.
The Sailors overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit with second-half goals from Packer and senior Devin Borvansky.
Borvansky evened the score 7 minutes into the second off a bending pass from Packer. Borvansky went to the "playmaker's spot," as the Sailors have named the area roughly 8 yards in front of the goal, and firmly struck Packer's assist past Wildcats goalie Josh Shatz-Batchelor.
"It was either going through the net or going through the goalie," Borvansky said.
Steamboat pulled ahead a little more than halfway through the second half on a well-executed play that began on a sideline lined with Steamboat fans.
Junior Alec Nelson saved a ball that appeared headed out of bounds, bouncing it off a Greeley Central defender. Nelson threw the ball into senior Daniel Barney, who turned and looked for Packer.
"Their left back was pinching forward," Packer said. "I opened my space so the left back would follow. My run was timed so I was onside, and it was an unbelievable ball (from Barney)."
Assistant Danny Tebbenkamp said the Sailors found their rhythm once they gained the one-goal advantage. The defense, led by seemingly tireless seniors Bjorn Utu and Nick Bentley, collapsed well and prevented the Wildcats from having any clean looks at the goal.
"The last 30 or so minutes, they showed what they are made of," Tebbenkamp said. "The senior leadership pretty much came through."
Last season, Greeley Central finished among the top four teams in the state in Class 4A, defeating Steamboat 5-0 in regionals. Ten seniors from last year's Wildcats team graduated, but coach Ian Wale fielded a talented group Thursday, despite its youth.
Greeley Central used its speed in the first half, as senior Mark Oliva gave the Wildcats the lead on his 20th goal of the year. Wale said the Wildcats had more chances to put the ball away but failed to capitalize.
"Steamboat's boys did a great job," Wale said. "It's just frustrating for us. My boys played a good game and Steamboat's boys played a good game. We wish them luck."