DENVER — In the club's first trip to the Class 3A state semifinals, the Jefferson Academy boys soccer players looked like they had been in that situation before.
The moment at the late-round playoff atmosphere didn't appear to be too big for the Jaguars.
Facing No. 2-seeded KIPP Denver Collegiate at All City Stadium on Wednesday night, the sixth-seeded Jaguars played the biggest game in their program's history, and what a game it was. After nearly three hours of fast-paced playoff soccer, the Jaguars broke a 1-1 tie by winning 4-2 in a penalty shootout.
Nearing the end of a magical season an unprecedented campaign of many firsts, the Jaguars now only have one game left to play.
"This is the best our team has ever done and I truly believe that we, as a team, can win this," Jaguars goalkeeper Eric Strauss said.
On Wednesday, senior Shervin Kazemi broke loose behind the defense and scored to give the Jaguars a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute. Three minutes later, however, the Tigers netted a goal of their own to knot the game at 1-1, a score that stood until halftime. With both teams creating solid opportunities in the second half, Strauss made a trio of spectacular saves in the final 40 minutes of regulation to keep his team in the game.
The junior goalkeeper, who has only been a keeper for the past 16 months, continued his stellar play through two overtime periods and into the eventual penalty shootout. When the game reached PKs, Jefferson Academy's Alex Kelso, Payton Tennal and Kile Kelly made their shots and Strauss made a diving stop against KIPP's Roger Hernandez to put the Jaguars up 3-2.
Firing a shot low and a into the left side netting, Kazemi dealt the final blow.
"We prepared beforehand," Strauss said. "My coach told me he goes right and he was going to tell me if he was going to go right. He told me. He went right, I went right and I saved it."
The Jaguars will face No. 1 Kent Denver in the championship game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday. The game will start at 10:30 a.m.
"This was honestly the most electric high school soccer game I've ever been a part of," Jaguars head coach Matt Cassell said. "Both teams were great. Both crowds were great. It was just an amazing game. We got an early goal and as the game went on and they tied it, the game was
Jefferson Academy 1, KIPP Denver Collegiate 1
Jefferson Academy 4, KIPP Denver Collegiate 2
At All City StadiumJefferson Academy 1 0 0 0 4 — 1
KIPP Denver Collegiate 1 0 0 0 2 — 1
Goals (assists) — Jefferson Academy: Shervin Kazemi, eighth minute; KIPP: Jhovani Gonzalez, 11th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Jefferson Academy: Eric Strauss (110-1-13); KIPP: Andrew Medina (110-1-8).