Jeff Gerali leapt high in the air and struck a header into the Steamboat net for the first goal of the match, and the Mullen Mustangs never relinquished the lead. Mullen went on to defeat the Sailors soccer team 4-0 in the 4A state soccer playoffs Saturday in Denver.
Mullen moves on to face Pueblo Centennial in the quarterfinals of the state tournament this week. Steamboat is left to reflect on a winning season.
Gerali's goal came off a corner kick in the 14th minute, breaking open an intense period that saw both teams counterpunching at one another.
"They did a good job of controlling the tempo of the game," Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann said.
The Mustangs' mid-fielders used size and speed to run from end line to end line and support attacks on the Sailors' goal.
"They're pretty smart players, and they recognize when it's time to go in. They did that today," Mullen coach Jay McClain said.
Mullen's Dane Karras made it 2-0 just six minutes after Gerali's header on a shot from the left wing. Sailors keeper Andy Comeau was able to slap the ball with his open palms. However, it spun off his gloves and trickled into the net.
Comeau played his best game of the season, recording double-digit saves, or Mullen's margin of victory might have been greater.
"Comeau was fantastic in goal," Bohlmann said. "It's a tribute to him and his teammates. He came in and became the self-proclaimed goalkeeper his senior year." Comeau had not played in the goal before this season and volunteered for the role, Bohlmann said.
Mullen stretched its lead to 3-0 before halftime after a long free kick ricocheted off the thigh of a defender. Travis Noble had an easy shot into the left side of the net.
Comeau might have been forced to make more saves in the first half had it not been for the aggressive defense of Bjorn Utu. Utu repeatedly came from the back side to cut off an attacker with a sliding tackle just outside the box.
"Bjorn, with Comeau, was co-player of the match for us," Bohlmann said. "He played with a lot of intensity."
Bohlmann made adjustments at halftime, moving Utu up from fullback to an attacking position. The switch to five midfielders was an attempt to generate more offense.
"When you're down three-nil at half, you have to do something to get some more attacking play," Bohlmann said.
The strategy succeeded in generating more shots, but nothing that seriously tested Mustang keeper Aaron Bugman.
McClain complimented the Sailors on their effort.
"Steamboat played hard. They're a well-coached team," McClain said. "My kudos to them."
The Sailors finished the season with 13 wins and four losses. Bohlmann said he felt the tone for the campaign was set in early workouts that led up to a surprising win at the Alexander Dawson Tournament near Boulder to open the season.
"There's been something special about this group," Bohlmann said. "Since we came from behind in the tournament at Alexander Dawson, this has been a team that has pursued hard and been competitive."