NIWOT — When a team is seeded high enough to warrant a home first-round playoff game, it doesn't expect to host the defending state champions.
The 13th-seeded Niwot boys soccer team found itself in that situation in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament on Wednesday. And hosting the defending state champion Evergreen Cougars, who entered the playoffs seeded 20th, was as difficult an opening test as the Niwot boys expected.
Eighty minutes of regulation wasn't enough to decide a winner. Even after two overtime periods, both teams remained deadlocked. Finally after 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, Evergreen outshot Niwot 4-1 in a penalty shootout to advance to the second round.
"That was a great game," Niwot head coach Steve Dimit said. "Both teams left every ounce of energy out there on the field. The RPI seeded Evergreen 20th but this was the team I wanted to see. This was the team we needed to see. We just tried to see this as an opportunity to really show that we're one of the best."
Evergreen (9-5-2) and Niwot (9-7) matched each other with seven shots on goal. Niwot's Mario Munoz and Evergreen's Logan Westgard saved everything that came their way before penalty kicks. Evergreen had a header hit off the left post with eight seconds remaining in regulation and with less than five minutes left in the second overtime period, Westgard made back-to-back diving saves on what appeared to be surefire game-winning shots.
"I've never seen that," Dimit said. "That might be one of the best saves I've ever seen in soccer. I think the defining moment in the game was that kid making that save."
Once the penalty shootout started, however, Westgard was outstanding against Niwot's penalty kick specialist Stian Cattell-Ravdal. While Evergreen's first three shooters scored, Westgard saved Niwot's first two shots. With a slim chance to stay alive, Cattell-Ravdal nearly made a diving save on a shot from Cameron Carlson but the ball deflected off his fingers, hit the upper 90 and bounced back into the goal.
Rostering a large junior class and a handful of underclassmen, including Manuel Tapia who broke his arm in the 96th minute on Wednesday, Dimit left Niwot High feeling optimistic about his team's prospects for next season.
"We have a super young team and this was a huge game for us to see where we are and where we want to be," Dimit said. "We bring back a ton of players next year, and we expect to learn from this experience and be right back here."
Evergreen will play the winner of Wednesday's first-round game between No. 4 Air Academy and No. 29 Kennedy in the next round.
Evergreen 0, Niwot 0
Evergreen wins 4-1 on penalties
At Niwot H.S.Evergreen 0 0 0 0 — 0 Niwot 0 0 0 0 — 0
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Evergreen: Logan Westgard (107-0-7), Brian Belrose (3-0-0); Niwot: Mario Munoz (110-0-7).