BROOMFIELD — The eye test sometimes lies.
Upon first glance on Wednesday night at Jefferson Academy, the visiting side from Colorado Academy walked in with a sense of confidence and sure they were noticeably bigger, maybe a little stronger and just a touch quicker than the Jaguars.
It didn't matter.
"We have heart," Jefferson Academy junior Payton Tennal said. "We leave it on the field every game ... it's what we've been taught to do."
And while the host Jags have accomplished a lot in their first seven years of the program, they reached a milestone on Wednesday that many thought was out of reach — a Metropolitan League title. They took down mighty CA 2-1, making two brilliant first-half goal from Tennal and Jake Claeys stand up.
"I would have never thought we would have done this," said Jags coach Matt Cassell, who has been with the program since its inception in 2010. "As the season rolled on, we just said next game, next game, next game and we find ourselves here doing something we've never done in school history.
"It's a lot of hard work and grit."
No. 2 ranked Jefferson Academy (14-0-1 overall, 7-0-1 in the Metro), who entered the game on an eight-day layoff, will have to wait another eight days for the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs to begin. The 32-team bracket will be released on Sunday by the CHSAA.
After a frenetic first minute that saw the No. 4 Mustangs (10-4, 6-1) nearly sneak one past Jefferson Academy keeper Eric Strauss, the Jags made the most of one of their rare quality possessions.
Tennal — from 30+ yards out, with his back to goal and with a defender draped on his side — was able to turn and fire a shot that beat a tall Colorado Academy keeper Noah Rhodes high in the upper-90.
"That is something I have always been taught to do. My dad has always told me since I was little just to turn and shoot," said Tennal of his magnificent strike. "There is always a chance that it will go in and that was the chance ... it went in."
The opportunistic Jags made the most of their chances and went up 2-0 in the 26th minute on Claeys' shot that again beat Rhodes high. Claeys banged the shot off the bar and in.
The Jags, who were shorthanded on Wednesday — without a completely healthy AJ Arroyo and central defender Colton Ingalls — made the most of their patchwork lineup against a Mustangs team that refused to fold up shop when it went down 2-0.
"We knew tonight we weren't going to see as much of the ball as we normally see; and we knew we had to keep compact and we had to take our chances that were going to be few and far between," Cassell said. "Those finishes were fantastic."
Colorado Academy cut the lead in half just three minutes after Claeys' goal on a well-timed direct free kick to the back post off the foot of Jackson Briggs to the head of Charlie Parham.
It would be the only shot Strauss would allow past him, and he came up big, especially in the second half — making four of his five save in the final 40 minutes.
The Jags will likely earn the top overall seed in the 3A tournament, with a chance to get back to Dick's Sporting Goods Park and the title game.
"They are ready to go," Cassell said. "Anybody that makes the playoffs, they are good and I firmly believe in 3A, any team can come out and get a result."
JEFFERSON ACADEMY 2, COLORADO ACADEMY 1
At Jefferson AcademyColorado Academy (10-4, 6-1) 1 0 — 1
Jefferson Academy (14-0-1, 7-0-1) 2 0 — 2
Goals (assists) — Jefferson Academy: Payton Tennal (unassisted), 2nd minute; Jake Claeys (unassisted), 26th; Colorado Academy: Charlie Parham (Jackson Briggs), 29th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Colorado Academy: Noah Rhodes (80-2-1); Jefferson Academy: Eric Strauss (80-1-5).