BROOMFIELD — Like any sport, soccer has its unwritten rules.
The Jefferson Academy Jaguars are going to have the entire offseason thinking they fell short of their goals of a repeat appearance in the Class 3A state championship game largely because their Saturday quarterfinals opponent broke one of those rules.
Jefferson Academy head coach Matt Cassell didn't shy away from the situation, either.
Liberty Common, seeded No. 8 in the bracket despite a perfect 17-0 record coming into their game against the Jaguars, scored a 2-1 win at the Jefferson Academy field to give the hosts their first loss of the entire season.
The go-ahead goal and eventual winner was scored in the 61st minute when Tyler Higgins put a ball past Eric Strauss. But the play apparently wasn't as cut-and-dried as that.
"They had a player down injured, we stopped, one of their players came over and took the ball from our guy who had stopped and he scored a goal," Cassell said after the match, which saw the Jaguars battle back from a 1-0 deficit and play strong in the second half. "The referee should have called it, the coach should have not allowed that but even after that he should have done what's right. We got cheated, and cheated is the right word."
If it looked like half the field shut down on the goal, it's because most players had stopped running with the assumption someone was going to kick the ball out for a stoppage. But there were never any whistles.
"One of our players was about to kick it out because one of their players had gone down on the field, and we had all stopped," said JA sophomore Payton Tennal, who produced the lone goal for his team with a free kick score from 30 yards in the 53rd minute. "Even half of their team had stopped. Then one kid just took the ball and started running with it.
"It was completely unexpected."
The Jaguars (16-1-1) had come back strong from a flat first half that saw the Eagles stake a 1-0 lead on a corner kick in the 11th minute.
Liberty Common's Joseph Dutoit fed a ball to the far side that went untouched and as Strauss came out to head it off, several JA defenders were at the goal line backing him up. Still, Ryan Zonnefeld was able to get enough of a touch to put the ball on net, and the JA defense played the ball in the air after it had clearly crossed the plane.
Jefferson Academy had its first legitimate shot on goal come in the 44th minute, and it was a good steady dose of pressure after that leading to Tennal's pot of a free kick.
In the 56th minute, Paddy Bins had a free kick from 50 yards that forced Liberty Common goalie Michael Bradley to paw it over the bar. The pressure continued but the Jags were unable to equalize.
"To be fair, I was staring at our bench and turned around and saw the goal happen," Liberty Common coach Cyrus Salehi said. "To comment on what he said — no comment. I know that Jefferson Academy has a whale of a team and played great, but I feel like our defensive block and our counter was the difference in the game."
The Jaguars feel bitter for good reason, but the run through the Metro League still represented one of their best seasons ever as a program. It was the second straight year with 16 wins, and an elusive league title came along with it in 2017.
"It's been one of our best seasons and we gave everything we had," Tennal said.
Liberty Common 2, Jefferson Academy 1
At Jefferson AcademyLiberty Common (18-0) 1 1 — 2
Jefferson Academy (16-1-1) 0 1 — 1
Goals (assists) — Liberty Common: Ryan Zonnefeld (Joseph Dutoit assist), 11th minute; Jefferson Academy: Payton Tanell (unassisted), 53rd minute; Liberty Common: Tyler Higgins (Zonnefeld), 61st minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Liberty Common: Michael Bradley (80-1-5); Jefferson Academy: Eric Strauss (80-2-6).