AURORA — There was an inkling around the Centaurus boys soccer team last year.
The Warriors knew they were close.
But how close and how quickly was that going to come to fruition?
On Wednesday night at Legacy Stadium, Centaurus did what very few people outside of their own camp believed was possible and earned a berth in Saturday's Class 4A state title game with a 2-0 victory over Northern League rival Niwot.
"We've been talking through the playoffs that when we start the game, we say one of these teams is going home and we all recognize and remember the feeling from last year," said Centaurus coach Lee Stanley, whose team bowed out in the first round last year at Skyview and that has served as a motivating factor for this team.
"They knew they didn't want that again. And after we got, it begins to be a little catchy."
The No. 7-seeded Warriors (16-2-1) will face top-seeded Air Academy (19-0) on Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park at 10:30 a.m. The Kadets knocked off The Classical Academy in the first semifinal at Legacy Stadium.
After a scoreless first 40 minutes of play, one in which the Warriors maintained a majority of the possession, something had to give in the final 40.
Third-seeded Niwot (15-2-2), who lost 2-1 to Centaurus in a thrilling overtime match during the regular season that essentially gave the Warriors the league title, started to gain some momentum and had Centaurus' defense on its heels for well over 20 minutes.
"I thought we played great and got back on our game," said Niwot coach Stephen Dimit, who cringes at the thought of Jason Rodriguez's shot that beat Centaurus goalie Rodrigo Ruiz only to bounce off his post. "Hey, that's soccer and the guys battled hard tonight. They had a great season and there is a lot to be proud of."
Centaurus slowly regained its first-half form and possession started to lean in its favor. It paid off in the 66th minute when one of the best on-ball players — not only in our region, but maybe in the state — took matters into his own feet.
Christian Nunez took a thrown in and weaved through five Niwot defenders before sliding a shot past Mario Munoz for a 1-0 lead.
"They are a really great team and they have some great players and it feels really good to go to the finals," said Nunez, who assisted on Raudel Manjarrez's goal in the 77th minute. "I knew we had this opportunity and we had to take the chance."
Said Stanley: "He is incredible on the ball and I haven't seen a kid with his amount of talent in years."
CENTAURUS 2, NIWOT 0
At Legacy StadiumCentaurus (16-2-1) 0 2 — 2
Niwot (15-2-2) 0 0 — 0
Goal (assist) — Centaurus: Christian Nunez (unassisted), 66th minute; Raudel Manjarrez (Nunez), 77th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Centaurus: Rodrigo Ruiz (80-0-3); Niwot: Mario Munoz (80-2-4).