COMMERCE CITY — There will be moments of Saturday's Class 4A title match at Dick's Sporting Goods Park that the Centaurus Warriors will look back on and wonder what if.
The upstart Warriors, who little outside of their own bench knew much about or even figured would be in this spot this quickly, showed tremendously on the grandest of stages.
They took unbeaten and top-seeded Air Academy Kadets to overtime, threatening all along the way to claim their first title with countless opportunities.
But ultimately, on the Kadets' 11th and final corner of the match, they were able to finish — Ryan Self will get the credit — and claim the school's fourth state soccer title 1-0 over the Warriors.
"I've grown up with this team and we took a major step this season," said Centaurus senior captain CJ Himel, as he clung to the runner-up hardware that will make a nice addition to the Centaurus trophy collection. "We are a team, we are a brotherhood and we started from the bottom.
"No one would have thought (this) and we came in showed them how to play and we put on a show for our fans and for them."
Centaurus had the Kadets guessing from the get-go with its talented midfield controlling the possession and keeping the pressure on in the finishing third of the field.
After a scoreless, and relatively uneventful first 40 minutes, where the best chance was Himel's from 35 yards out that took a bizarre hop and forced Air Academy keeper Thomas Beatty to deflect it out of play.
Then similar to what Niwot was able to do in the semifinals on Wednesday, Air Academy ratcheted up the pressure in the second half and had the Warriors on their heels a bit.
"We definitely responded to the pressure real well and this team plays with more heart than anything else," Centaurus coach Lee Stanley said.
The Kadets peppered Warriors keeper Rodrigo Ruiz with 11 shots in regulation, and every time the senior was up to the challenge — with a majority of his six second half saves bordering on spectacular.
In the 57th minute, he turned away Self. Kristian Hooker was denied in the 66th, Kelton Hooker in the 71st and Luke Louthan in 75th.
"This game was hard, but the system we had was working," Ruiz said.
And every time Air Academy would have a chance, the Warriors would counter with an equally impressive chance on their own end.
In the 62nd, Centaurus created a 3-on-1 transition break spearheaded by Fernando Ruiz and Christian Nunez. Beatty came way out of his goal to cut down the angle and was able to turn away Fernando Ruiz at the last second.
Momentum was back on the Warriors' side and in the waning moments of regulation, they got the opportunity to claim their elusive state title. They were awarded a penalty kick after Air Academy defender Calvin Yocum handled the ball in the box in the 79th minute.
Junior Cristian Rice stepped up, but his shot sailed high over Beatty's bar.
"I trusted anybody who was going to step up and take it, but I think the gravity of the situation with under two minutes left in the state final might get into your head a little bit ... I know it would get into mine," said Stanley, whose No. 7-seeded Warriors finished 16-3-1. "(Cristian) is a great kid and his skill and confidence will get him through just fine.
"He knows that."
Air Academy's winner would come in the 92nd minute when Yocum, who was booked for his handball infraction in the box, would deliver a well placed corner to the far post that Self was able to run on to and head home.
"I told the boys that this is the best soccer game that I have ever been a part of," said Stanley, who will graduate just five seniors off of his team. "We played our best soccer and we put it out there and we went for it.
AIR ACADEMY 1, CENTAURUS 0 OT
At Dick's Sporting Goods ParkCentaurus (16-3-1) 0 0 0 — 0
Air Academy (20-0) 0 0 1 — 1
Goal (assist) — Air Academy: Ryan Self (Calvin Yocum), 92nd minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Centaurus: Rodrigo Ruiz (92-1-12); Air Academy: Thomas Beatty (92-0-5).