LAFAYETTE — With one last push, Christian Nunez broke free into the midfield and saw his line mate, Fernando Ruiz, breaking towards the goal.
Oh, what a sweet sight it was.
Nunez set up Ruiz for his second goal of the game with 46 seconds left in regulation and Centaurus returned from last year's 4A state title game loss with a 2-1 win over defending 5A champion Broomfield in the Warriors' home opener Tuesday.
"Coming off a successful season like we had last year, the expectations were high (this year)," Centaurus coach Lee Stanley said before letting out a little chuckle. "The negative takeaway from this game is calming those expectations again."
Here's what you can expect more of: Nunez to Ruiz. Ruiz to Nunez. The same two who combined for 96 points last year as perhaps the most dangerous sophomore tandem in the state were thrust back into the spotlight in Game No. 1 of their junior seasons.
With the Warriors on their heels most of the second half and the Eagles pressing for a late score, Nunez grabbed the ball and turned the field. He spurted out past midfield into open grass and passed it up to Ruiz, who corralled it in the box and touched to the far-right side of the net.
"I just ran through the middle and saw Fernando wide open," Nunez said. "I gave him the ball and knew he'd finish it."
It was a top-billed match featuring two of the best teams in the state — the Eagles, currently ranked No. 1 in the CHSAANow 5A boys' soccer polls, and the Warriors, second in the 4A ranks — and boy did it ever live up to the hype.
Fantastic scorers and acrobatic saves played to a postseason-like atmosphere at Spangenberg Field as the teams yanked momentum back-and-forth. Ruiz scored in the 4th minute as Centaurus cranked out several chances throughout the first half and the Eagles controlled play in the second as Gustavo Gutierrez finally tied things 1-1 in the 60th minute.
Broomfield pressed harder and harder in the closing minutes. A near miss here, an acrobatic save from Centaurus keeper Parker Sanchez there. A slight crack, however, was all the Warriors needed to cap off a wild finish.
"We struggled a bit in the first half and I thought Centaurus was really good on the counter and had a couple nice chances," Broomfield coach Jim Davidson said. "We got ourselves right and made some good adjustments to the system in the second half. And we punished them for 39 minutes and 14 seconds, and then we switched off defensively right there on the counter."
Ruiz led the attack early for Centaurus, which looked as if it hadn't missed a beat since its best season in program history in 2017. The junior, coming off a 52-point campaign from a year ago, needed less than five minutes to net his first points of 2018.
"We've been working hard in practices and this is the result of the hard work," Ruiz said.
Centaurus then came close to adding to its lead midway through the half with a pair of breakaway chances on net. Ruiz found a step on the defense in the 19th minute, but his chance was thwarted away as keeper Jack Stoecker sprawled into the air and deflected it away. A minute later, Broomfield senior captain Sean O'Brien helped stop another chance as Raudel Manjarrez had streaked behind the defense before O'Brien caught up and stepped in front at the last moment.
Broomfield flipped the script in the second. Pushing back Centaurus' backline, the Eagles rattled one chance after another in the final 40 minutes. Sanchez, for his part, kept the Warriors ahead with a few nice saves, including one of the diving variety on a blast from Andres Ocampo in the 58th minute. The Eagles finally broke through with a cross into the box that found Gutierrez, who tapped it into the far side of the net.
In control, Broomfield looked as if it'd either win it in regulation or force overtime. Centaurus, though, just needed one look.
"We made a huge mistake there at the end," Gutierrez said. "They countered us pretty well and when they have players like that you can't do much about that."
Brent W. New: , firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet @brentwnew
Centaurus 2, Broomfield 1
At Spangenberg FieldBroomfield (1-1)01—1Centaurus (1-0)11—2
Goals (assists) —Centaurus: Fernando Ruiz (Jesus Garcia) 4th minute, Ruiz (Christian Nunez) 79th; Broomfield: Gustavo Gutierrez (Andrew Boettcher) 60th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Centaurus: Parker Sanchez (80-1-9); Broomfield: Jack Stoecker (40-1-3), Kaden Carson (40, 1, 3).