BOULDER — The Boulder boys soccer team had ran roughshod through a pair of opponents through the first two rounds of the Class 5A state soccer tournament.
Leave it to another Front Range League team, though, to finally put the Panthers through the wringer.
Facing a Fort Collins team that had given it fits in a league game earlier this season at Recht Field, Boulder watched a slim 1-0 lead disappear with just 11 minutes left in regulation, had to take its chances in overtime and finally left it to its individual attention to detail in penalties.
The gamesmanship that showed up in a 3-2 Boulder win back on September 13 once again made its presence known all the way through the PKs, but Boulder's Toby Bateman made two saves on seven shots to help BHS win the bonus game, 5-4.
The win puts Boulder in its third Class 5A semifinals in the past six years.
"There's never been a game between Boulder and Fort Collins that wasn't a high-intensity game," Boulder coach Hardy Kalisher said, "and they have been very committed to playing strong, competitive games against us. Our goal tonight was to not chase the game, and getting a first goal was big for us.
"But, yeah, it was a hard-tackle, a lot of running through balls, big battles in the air for both teams. And it came down to, we have a young sophomore goalkeeper who has been doing a tremendous job for us ... he trains well on penalty kicks, and we had so much confidence in his ability to save at least one."
Boulder cruised past Chaparral and Pine Creek by equal 4-1 counts in going to 16-1 on the year, but Collins's familiarity with the style of play made it tough on Boulder to gain a lot of traction.
While it was the Lambkins' initial pressure that ate up most of the first half of the game, the Panthers managed to strike first on a long free kick from Micah Blackburn.
In the 35th minute, Blackburn laced a ball near the far numbers at midfield and ping-ponged in the box before Jesse Bacardi was able to find a touch past Collins keeper Mason Gilbert.
It wasn't long into the second half before the Lambkins began to find more worthwhile crosses into the box once they were deep. Boulder sprinkled in a few good chances off earned corner kicks — Blackburn had one stick out in particular in the 56th minute — but it became Fort Collins' half once again and they were able to take advantage of a cross behind the defense in the 69th minute to knot things up at 1-1.
It was then that Anthony Priest, Fort Collins' top playmaker, got behind the defense and crossed into a wide-open Jake Rademacher. The Collins bench and a host of vocal supporters went wild.
The first overtime was filled with action, with another Blackburn corner chance putting people on their feet in the 88th minute. In the second overtime, it was Collins' Fernando Beltran that had the chance to win it, a ball in close with about 1 minute left that was a narrow miss.
And then, as it has played out so often this postseason, both team's fate rested the luck of the draw. Boulder's Bateman made a save on Rademacher and saw Priest miss the target, while his teammates were successful on five-of-seven shots.
When Brian Ordaz nailed the Panthers' fifth to twine, Bateman had a chance to seal it and did with a spectacular save on Beltran.
"The penalty kick is an interesting thing, because we've had all-state kids that did not want to take them and we've seen role-player type guys thrive on them," Kalisher said. "Brian comes in and works for us in short spurts ... but he wins our penalty kick contest in practice all the time."
And with those efforts was born a trip to EchoPark Stadium in Parker on Wednesday night.
Boulder 1, Fort Collins 1
Boulder wins on penalties 5-4
At Recht FieldFort Collins (12-4-2) 0 1 0 0 — 1(4)
Boulder (17-1) 1 0 0 0 — 1(5)
Goals (assists) — Boulder: Jesse Bacardi (Micah Blackburn assist), 35th minute; Fort Collins: Jake Rademacher (Anthony Priest), 69th.
Shootout goals — Boulder: Blackburn, Fabian Valencia, Ian McDiarmid-Sterling, Daniel Zapatero, Brian Ordaz; Fort Collins: Alec Fronapfel, Mason Gilbert, Logan Arterburn, Jesus Bautista Torres
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Stats not available.