The margin for error at this point in the soccer season for the Fairview Knights is smaller than the sliver of a moon that hovered over the FHS pitch on Wednesday night.
With a near mistake-free performance in the second-round of the Class 5A state tournament, however, the No. 5 seeded Knights were able to manage a difficult and familiar No. 21 Horizon team, 4-1, with the help of three second-half goals.
The Knights were on the attack early against the surprising Hawks, which had upset Ralston Valley in the first round. And after a tough first-round game of its own, Fairview and head coach Jeff Frykholm was pleased with ability to put their Front Range League foe away with a strong counter attack and a disciplined defense.
"Every one of these is a learning experience, and you just absolutely have to come out of each game with something," said Frykholm, whose team moved to 14-3 and advanced to the quarterfinals to face another FRL powerhouse, Broomfield, on Saturday. "We grew a little bit in the last game, and I was just waiting for this team to really put a stamp on a game. We played pretty well at times in the first round, but tonight it felt like we were able to claim the game as our style and our identity."
"It's awesome to finish our (home schedule) on this field the way we did," said forward Evan Mason, who had a goal and an assist in his final outing on the Fairview field.
The teams played to a 1-0 Fairview win back on Sept. 15, and it appeared early that this rematch could take on the very same result. But Fairview did produce a steady diet of through balls and diagonal crosses into the box for the first 30 minutes that gave the Knights chances, and it finally paid off in the 35th minute when Mark O'Neil cleaned up a Ryan Houseman shot to make it 1-0.
Houseman continued to influence the game as the second half started, hitting a couple hard shots that were blocked by Horizon defenders. Still in a position to attack the net in the 49th minute, Houseman finished a crafty back-and-forth with Kiran Singh to go up 2-0.
On Fairview's third score — as Horizon mounted up a little more up top — Houseman was able to send a pass to the right flank for Mason, who sped down and nailed a difficult shot to the far post past a diving Braden Mangel.
Horizon scored four minutes later, but Fairview answered quickly when Mason crossed to a streaking Frank Johnson to provide the final tally.
"We just carried a lot of the momentum after that first goal," Mason said. "They pushed heavy up top and pressed well, but our defense handled it and we were able to counter. Our back line was huge in that sense."
"They were dangerous on the counter and it took us a while to crack the code, but I was just happy with how we stuck to the game plan," Frykholm added. "They were scrappy to play against."
The Knights will travel to Broomfield to take on an Eagles team they have never beaten (0-4) since the Eagles moved up to 5A. But a trip to the semifinals on the line is as good motivation as any.
"They've won two straight championships and are a good team, but if we play our style we can definitely keep it close with them," Mason said.
Fairview 4, Horizon 1
At Fairview HSHorizon (9-7-1) 0 1 — 1 Fairview (14-3) 1 3 — 4
Goals (assists) — Fairview: Mark O'Neil (Ryan Houseman assist) 35th; Fairview: Houseman (Kiran Singh), 49th; Fairview: Evan Mason (Ryan Houseman assist) 55th; Horizon: Sawyer Cirbo (unassisted), 59th; Fairview: Frank Johnson (Mason), 69th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Horizon: Brayden Mangel (80-4-8); Fairview: Ben Nielsen (80-1-6).