For much of Tuesday afternoon's contest, the Monarch offense was like the clouds that hung over the turf field next to the school — ominous looking and threatening without producing much results.
But unlike the weather, which only generated a spattering of rain drops early in the second half, the Coyotes struck like a bolt of lightning, getting a goal from Melissa Myer with 26.3 second left to lift 8th-seeded Monarch to a 1-0 victory over visiting Fruita Monument in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
"It was really satisfying, really exciting," Myer, a senior striker, said about her late goal.
It was a thrilling ending to a game that had to be frustrating for the Coyotes (14-2), who were riding a seven-game winning streak into the postseason. From the opening kick, the 25th-seeded Wildcats (10-6) seemed content to let Monarch do most of the heavy lifting, packing it in on defense while only offering a nominal counter-attack.
The Coyotes controlled possession for the vast majority of the game, and if it wasn't for stellar play from Fruita keeper Jessica Smith, this one may have been over early.
Monarch put a shot on goal less than a minute in, and then had another ricochet off the crossbar in the 12th minute. The Coyotes also had a couple other near-misses in the first 40 minutes, including a point-blank shot by Aubrey Samuelson that Smith stopped, while the Wildcats only produced one scoring chance, and that came late in the half and was easily swallowed up by Monarch keeper Sophia Chen.
"You can see how Fruita played all year, not giving up many goals," Coyotes coach Eric Schmidt said. "Their goalkeeper is just amazing. We have some top goalkeepers in the Front Range League...so they're going to save a lot, you just have to remain confident in yourself and not get frustrated."
Monarch turned up the intensity in the second half, producing a handful of scoring opportunities that resulted in six shots on goal and six corner kicks. Samuelson had a couple more decent chances, as did Kristin Barbour and Zoe Schmanski.
But Smith remained a brick wall, and may have been at her best in the final 90 seconds.
With time running down, Schmanski made a great run down the left side of the field before centering a pass to Myer in the middle of the box. Myer was able to steady the ball and fire a rocket that Smith somehow was able to deflect. The ball squirted out to her right before being sent back in on frame by Monarch, but Smith again was able to corral it.
After the ball was cleared down the field, Chen got a hold of it and punted it deep down the center of the pitch to a streaking Myer, who had gotten behind the Wildcats defense. As Smith came off her line and charged at the ball, Myer was able to get a foot on it and looped it over the keeper and into the back of the net for the game winner.
"It was pretty crazy. (Chen) has always had a pretty long punt, and just capitalizing on it was important," Myer said. "I just tried to touch it, get something on it."
Next up for Monarch is a date with a familiar foe, 9th-seeded Fairview in Friday's second round. The two rivals played each other early in the Front Range League season, with the Knights scoring a 1-0 victory on March 31.
"Can't wait. Can't wait," Schmidt said. "I'm really excited to play them."
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Monarch 1, Fruita Monument
At MonarchFruita Monument (10-6) 0 0 — 0
Monarch (14-2) 0 1 — 1
Goals (assists) — Monarch: Melissa Myer (Sofia Chen), 78th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Fruita Monument: Jessica Smith (80-1-9); Monarch:Sophia Chen (80-0-1).