NIWOT — Only a few members of the Niwot girls soccer team were on varsity the last time the Cougars won a playoff game in 2014.
That bitter taste had been present for too long, while on the other side of Wednesday's Class 4A first-round game was Erie, an upstart program who has taken big steps each of its first three years of existence.
Something had to give, and neither team was willing to give in. But, after tying the game 3-3 with just 17 seconds left in regulation and then dominating play in the first overtime, host Niwot and star senior Maddie Barkow were able to successfully defend their home pitch with a dramatic 4-3 win.
Just slightly more than two minutes into the second overtime, Barkow took a rather fortuitous bounce off an Erie defender and found space to either make a run or shoot the ball from about 30 yards.
Having been on the ground stretching her legs just moments before, she opted to take her chances from a distance. And unfortunately for Erie, goalie Megan Marcoux had no chance to make a stop on the perfectly placed ball.
It was a fitting ending to a drama-filled contest — which included Lauren Wolf's improbable tying goal with Erie just one clearing attempt away from the upset.
"We just kept our heads in the moment, and when we scored that (tying) goal we just had the fire to finish it," said Barkow, who notched her 11th goal of the season to put Niwot into the second round Saturday. "We never gave up."
The entire game could be described as an all-out melee. Erie scored in the first minute, before anyone could even say they established possession, and there was a point in the second half where four goals were scored in a span of 10 minutes.
Chalk that up to the offensive firepower of both squads.
In reality, McKenna Harrington's goal just 34 seconds into play put Niwot on high alert. The teams had played already this season — a 5-3 win for the Cougars that included a pair of Barkow goals early on — and Barkow knew that it could end up a high scoring type of contest.
It was back-and-forth the rest of the way, though the rest of the first stanza went without another goal. Niwot tied the game in the 54th minute on a Kailee Stobbe goal off a punt from goalkeeper Alexandra Colvin, and the Cougars took their first lead on a deep cross from Anna McCarthy to Sage Marten just four minutes later.
Erie, who made the playoffs for the first time last year but lost in the first round, wasn't done. Harrington was at it again deep in the attacking third in the 61st minute, drawing a foul in the box and converting the penalty kick to make it 2-2. Harrington, just a sophomore, then found another playmaker in Ali McNeal in the 64th minute, giving the Tigers another advantage.
Even with the lead, Erie (11-5) pursued to defend and counter — and it almost paid off. But with the seconds ticking, a 50-50 ball in front of the goal managed to settle nicely for Wolf for a strike that even had Niwot principal Eric Rauschkolb running down the sideline in a tizzy.
Niwot out-shot Erie 6-0 in the first overtime, and Barkow's goal off a Roxie Pasma assist came on the first shot of the second overtime.
"I saw the ball coming to me, and I thought, there's no way my calves can make the run, so I just kicked it and hoped for the best," Barkow said. ""
"Lauren has been such a quiet, calm leader for us all year and for her to be the one with the composure to finish that shot with 17 seconds left ... that's just amazing," NHS head coach Stephen Dimit added. "She, Stobbe and Barkow, the seniors really stepped up for us today. They've been wanting this for a long time."
Marcoux made nine saves for Erie, and the Tigers defense stopped a couple early attempts in and around the goal box that kept the team fighting.
For first-year Erie head coach Megan Remec, it's the fight that she'll remember as the team heads to the offseason.
"Sometimes special players can make a special play, and I think that's what that last goal was all about. Left side, 30-35 yards away, that's a special player getting an opportunity and converting," Remec said. "The girls should be proud of how they played."
Niwot 4, Erie 3 (2OT)
At Niwot HSErie (11-5)1200—3
Goals (assists) — Erie: McKenna Harrington (Fiona McNeal assist), 1st minute; Niwot: Kailee Stobbe (Alexandra Colvin), 54th; Niwot: Sage Marten (Anna McCarthy), 58th; Erie: McKenna Harrington (penalty kick), 61st; Erie: Alison McNeal (Harrington), 64th; Niwot: Lauren Wolf (Stobbe), 80th; Niwot: Maddie Barkow (Roxie Pasma), 98th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Erie: Megan Marcoux (98-4-9); Niwot: Alexandra Colvin (98-3-6).