LAFAYETTE — Splitting several first-place votes in the CHSAANow.com 4A boys soccer poll this past week, there was plenty of visual evidence out there for Centaurus and Air Academy that they are highly likely to see each other deep in a playoff scenario.
The Warriors can only hope it goes it bit better than their in-season battle did on Saturday at Centaurus' home pitch.
Using three set-piece goals brought about by an abundance of physical play and whistles throughout the game, Air Academy managed to fight off an early equalizing goal by Centaurus and work back ahead for a 4-2 win. It was a rematch of last year's 4A state championship contest, and there was a very feisty feel to the contest, to be true.
In the end, Air Academy's height across the board paved the way for its scoring opportunities, while Centaurus put up a positive effort in the run of play.
"Playing Air Academy, knowing that every one of their players seem to be six feet tall or more, one of those areas you have to limit is set pieces and corner kicks," said Centaurus head coach Lee Stanley, whose team dropped to 3-2 overall but has seen three opponents that rank highly in the RPI, including 5A's Broomfield. "We knew we were vulnerable in that area because they are strong in that area. It was just a matter of knowing we were probably going to give some of those up and then responding.
"Run of play, ball on the ground, we responded pretty well. But they are big and powerful and when we dribbled into them it was like dribbling into a brick wall. Working the ball around them when we could move the ball quickly, that's the game you have to play."
The defending champions scored just 13 minutes into the game using a corner kick. Air Academy's Luke Louthan, one of those towering forwards, headed in a Kameron Hooker serve from the flag to make it 1-0.
Centaurus battled right back with a rebound conversion off the foot of Fernando Ruiz — Christian Nunez's hard shot from the left of the keeper outside the goal box helped set it up — but it took just three minutes for Air Academy to regain the lead for good.
In the 19th minute, a long free kick send-in from Adin Schwenke was headed by Thaddeus Dewing and saved by Centaurus keeper Parker Sanchez, but a failure to clear gave Louthan a chance to clean up the play.
Louthan fed Dewing for a good look in the 27th minute to make it 3-1, and it was a battle uphill from there for the Warriors.
It was a war they were willing to fight. Nunez made a brilliant individual play in the 46th minute to cut the score to 3-2, and he was stopped cold on another chance in the 59th minute that looked like it was going to tie the match.
Air Academy was again able to separate on a direct free kick that was aesthetically pleasing to anyone not rooting for the Warriors, a pitch-perfect bend from Kelton Hooker that eluded the CHS defending wall and snuck into the far post from 25 yards out.
After losing back-to-back games for the first time since October of 2016, Centaurus will look to pick up the pieces against D'Evelyn (0-6) on Thursday.
"In our first five games, with the teams we've played, being 3-2 when you've played Broomfield, Fossil Ridge, Air Academy ... that's a win for me," Stanley said. "We'll play (Air Academy) again and feel confident that we can beat them, because we aren't afraid to play anybody."
Air Academy 4, Centaurus 2
At Centaurus HSAir Academy (6-1) 3 1 — 4
Centaurus (3-2) 1 1 — 2
Goals (assists) —Air Academy: Luke Louthan (Kameron Hooker assist), 13th minute; Centaurus: Fernando Ruiz (Christian Nunez), 16th: Air Academy: Louthan (Thaddeus Dewing), 19th minute; Air Academy: Dewing (Louthan), 27th; Centaurus: Nunez (unassisted), 46th; Air Academy: Kelton Hooker (unassisted), 73rd.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Air Academy: Thomas Beatty (80-2-6); Centaurus: Parker Sanchez (80-4-4).