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Boys soccer: Strategic move pays off as Peak to Peak advances

David R. Jennings
Peak to Peak goalie Max Clark celebrates one of his stops during the penalty-kick round as the Pumas defeated Bruce Randolph in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament.

BROOMFIELD — Peter Chandler had been mulling the move for much of the season. When the opportunity finally arrived during Peak to Peak’s battle against Bruce Randolph in the first round of the Class 3A boys soccer state tournament, the Pumas’ coach went with his gut feeling and made a nervy decision.

Even though Peak to Peak goalkeeper Max Clark had almost single-handedly kept the Pumas in the game with a number of dazzling saves, Chandler opted to pull Clark with 16 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in regulation and the Pumas trailing 1-0.

Needing a goal to stay alive, Chandler turned the netminding duties over to Josh Gruener and inserted Clark at the top of Peak to Peak’s attack. Few coaching decisions have ever panned out so flawlessly.

Clark tallied the tying goal late in regulation before turning around to make two spectacular saves during the decisive penalty-kick round, leading the 13th-seeded Pumas to a thrilling victory against No. 20 Bruce Randolph at Holy Family’s field.

“It was something we were planning on doing,” Chandler said. “If we were down we wanted to give our kids an opportunity to win the game. You might as well lose 2-0 as 1-0. We’ve been getting a lot of good confidence out of Josh. He’s been our backup keeper and has been doing a great job. And then for Max to put the goal in, it was something.”

While Clark had been inserted in the field on a few occasions during the regular season, it always was during garbage time at the end of blowout wins. This was the first time Clark had been called upon to deliver a critical goal, and the senior responded in a big way.

Tracking down a loose ball near the top right corner of the penalty area, Clark took advantage of an ill-timed charge by Bruce Randolph goalie Danny Ruiz, deftly flicking a high, arcing shot over Ruiz and into the far corner of the net to send the game into overtime.

“It was a great opportunity to hold on and battle and battle and battle,” Clark said. “With about 20 minutes left I saw Josh starting to get warmed up, and I got in the mindset of, ‘Let’s keep it at 1-0 and try to keep working.’ It was just composure — being a senior, being a leader for these guys. I knew I wanted to come through for them.”

Peak to Peak used a few stellar defensive plays to keep its deficit at one goal. Late in the first half, Bruce Randolph’s Ernesto Piedra Jara worked free and fired a shot off the left goalpost. The Grizzlies’ forward collected the rebound with an open net in front of him, but Peak to Peak defender Steven Wanninger cleared the shot off the goal line.

Clark made a fully-extended midair stop against Ulises Gutierrez early in the second half before giving way to Gruener. Gruener, also a senior, made several good saves down the stretch, but during the penalty kick session Chandler turned back to Clark.

After punching home Peak to Peak’s first goal of the decisive session, Clark made one diving stop to his left and another to his right, allowing Callum Taylor to finally score the winner.

“It worked out for us,” Chandler said. “Bruce Randolph is a tough team. It could have been worse. They have such individual skill on that team. It’s nice to see, but you never want to play against it.”

Peak to Peak will return to the field at Holy Family on Saturday to face the fourth-seeded Tigers in a second-round match. Holy Family defeated the Pumas 2-1 on Sept. 27.

Follow Pat on Twitter: @prooney07

Peak to Peak 1, Bruce Randolph 1

At Holy Family H.S.

Bruce Randolph (12-3-1) 1 0 0 0 (2)– 1

Peak to Peak (9-6-1) 0 1 0 0 (4)– 1

Goals (assists) — Bruce Randolph: Ulises Gutierrez, 14th minute. Peak to Peak: Max Clark, 77th minute.

Penalty kick goals — Bruce Randolph: Jesus Duron, Ernesto Piedra Jara. Peak to Peak: Clark, Will Swanson, Tomas Lopez Del Carril, Callum Taylor.

Goalkeepers (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Bruce Randolph: Danny Ruiz (110-1-8). Peak to Peak: Clark (64-1-5); Josh Gruener (46-0-3).