FREDERICK -- First-round state playoff games normally aren't this dicey for soccer teams seeded seventh in the bracket.
Then again, there were some extenuating circumstances on Thursday for the Niwot boys.
First, they got the raw end of the deal in drawing Denver West in the round of 32, given that the Cowboys' 4-10-1 record coming into Thursday included six losses due to forfeits.
Then what should have been a home game essentially became a neutral-field matchup because the snow overnight forced Niwot to move the game to Frederick High School.
Add it all up and the Cougars had to sweat out a 2-1 overtime victory over 26th-seeded Denver West to open the 4A state tournament.
Niwot, which has advanced to the 4A semifinals three of the past four years, needed a golden goal by senior Alexander Merritt in the second minute of OT to emerge with the victory.
"Anytime they come back like that (to tie it) it's a scary moment," Merritt said after scoring his fifth goal of the season. "We just had to fight harder to come back and win it. And that's what we ended up doing."
Senior Danny Witt, who assisted on both NHS goals, set up the winning tally off a corner kick, with Merritt taking advantage of a loose ball in front of the net to score.
"It was unfortunate that we got a team that was probably better (than their seed), but we kept our composure at the end and we pulled it through in overtime," said senior Koen Litt, whose goal in the first minute of the second half put Niwot up 1-0.
The reward for the Cougars (13-3) is that they'll host a second-round game Saturday against 10th-seeded Windsor, a 3-2 winner over Air Academy on Thursday. NHS coach Rob Johnson said it's unlikely that game will be held at Niwot either, with the snow that's on the field, so either Longmont or Frederick High School is the most likely venue.
Niwot avoided the upset on a cold Thursday despite a 0-0 tie at intermission and allowing the equalizer in the middle of the second half.
The Cougars broke the ice almost immediately after halftime when, on a free kick 40 yards from the goal, Witt looped a pass in front of the net and the ball bounced free. With the goalkeeper out of position, Litt scored his fourth goal of the year.
"I was just in the right spot at the right time," Litt said. "It could have been anyone."
But Denver West knotted it with 20:37 remaining in regulation as Christian Serrato poked in a rebound off a corner kick.
Despite it being a tense situation from there on, Niwot came up big in overtime.
"I'll take these guys anywhere," Johnson said after NHS' fourth consecutive victory. "My money is on them every time we play. I feel confident with them."
Despite losing several key players to the Colorado Rapids' Development Academy, Johnson believes this team has the ability to return to the final four.
"We kind of play with a chip on our shoulder," Johnson said. "It's not that no one respects us ... but these kids don't want to take any crap from anybody. They work hard. Sometimes it's not pretty, but we outwork everybody we play against."
Niwot 2, Denver West 1
At Frederick H.S.
Denver West (4-11-1) 0 1 0 -- 1
Niwot (13-3-0) 0 1 1 -- 2
Goals (assists) -- Denver West: Christian Serrato (unassisted), 60th minute; Niwot: Koen Litt (Danny Witt assist), 41st minute; Alexander Merritt (Witt assist), 82nd minute.
Goalkeepers (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) -- Denver West: Romero 82-2-10; Niwot: Fitzgerald 82-1-5.