NIWOT — You could see the toll the match had taken on Manuel Tapia's face.
"We were extremely tired," he said.
And understandably so.
With the prospect of going to penalty kicks against Denver North in their Class 4A quarterfinal match, Niwot and Tapia took matters into their own hands with mere seconds left on the second overtime clock.
In the 110th minute of what will be remembered as an epic struggle between the Vikings and Cougars on a blustery Saturday afternoon, Tapia headed home a Jonathan Jimenez Flores direct free kick for the winner that sent Niwot to the state semifinals.
"We didn't want to go to penalties and I was lucky to just tap it in," said Tapia, who was mobbed by his teammates and Cougars supporters. "It was exciting and my cousin Mark didn't make it this far and he is a big role model to me."
Up next for third-seeded Niwot (15-1-2) is a Northern League rematch with No. 7 Centaurus at Legacy Stadium on the campus of Cherokee Trail High School on Wednesday. The Warriors won the regular season match 2-1 in overtime.
Against North, the Cougars defense had its hands full with a Vikings squad that presented a number of match-up problems.
The sixth-seeded Denver Prep League squad was loaded with talent all over the field that had the lethal mix of speed and individual creativity.
The counter to that sizeable Niwot back line that gave up opportunities in front of keeper Mario Munoz, but none that really ever threatened to go in.
"I told them that we really can't be held out of any net this year, and it is just a matter of time," Niwot coach Stephen Dimit said. "Our defense was stellar today, just spectacular. Tyler Crall, Abe (Marrufo) and Nicholas (Grant) and Alex (Torcello) ... they just crushed it all day."
Niwot had two very good chances in the 65th minute to take the lead. Back-to-back shots by Davin Bala and Tapia that forced North goalie Bryan Torres to make diving saves.
Torres, who finished with eight saves in all, made another fantastic stop on Dylan Campbell in the first 15 minute overtime.
It was the ideal situation for Niwot in double overtime with the set piece.
"We practiced them for an hour the other day and we have really been emphasizing them," Dimit said. "You really win or lose the game on those in the playoffs.
"The guys took it to heart and really stepped up."
The winner was sent in from Jimenez Flores to Torres' back post and Tapia got enough of it with his head to deflect it off or Torres' hand an in.
"It wasn't a good day for us," Tapia said. "But we got the job done."
NIWOT 1, DENVER NORTH 0
At NiwotDenver North (13-5) 0 0 0 0—0
Niwot (15-1-2) 0 0 0 1—1
Goal (assist) — Niwot: Manuel Tapia (Jonathan Jimenez Flores), 110th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Denver North: Bryan Torres (110-1-8); Niwot: Mario Munoz (110-0-10).