ENGLEWOOD — Senior midfielder Joseph Lee only looked at ease when he walked up to his penalty kick with a state finals berth on the line Wednesday night.
“I’m going to be honest, I was anything but calm,” Lee said. “You got to just take deep breaths.”
Exhale. The Knights are back in the Class 5A championship.
Lee scored the walk-off winner into the top left corner in the semifinal shootout and No. 12 Fairview beat No. 8 Ralston Valley 5-4 in PKs after the teams remained tied 1-1 through two icy cold overtime periods at Englewood High School.
Lee capped a perfect 5-for-5 shootout for the Knights (13-5-1), who won in dramatic fashion for a fourth straight postseason game. Now they’ll return to finals with a chance to win their second title in three seasons. They face No. 2 Denver East at Weidner Field 6 p.m. Saturday night.
“In the beginning of the season I didn’t think in a million we would make it to the finals,” Lee admitted.
Few probably did.
The Knights were ranked lower than five other Front Range League teams coming into the tournament — behind No. 1 Legacy, No. 4 Broomfield, No. 5 Boulder, No. 9 Monarch and No. 11 Fossil Ridge. But they got goals late into regulation in wins over No. 21 Far Northeast Warriors and Boulder in the opening two rounds, then beat Broomfield in overtime in last weekend’s quarterfinals.
This time, as snow fell late into regulation in a game that didn’t end until 10:45 p.m., it was more brilliance from keeper Shane Williams and perfect execution late.
“It’s pretty much what every single kid dreams of growing up, playing for Fairview and winning games like these in the cold,” junior midfielder Tate Ruzzin said.
Ruzzin was the game’s hero for just 12 seconds when his chance from 40 yards out dripped just over Ralston Valley keeper Evan Bierman and into the far top corner of the net in the 58th minute. Liam Rooney almost immediately scored the equalizer for the Mustangs, though, getting his head on a cross from Owen Hennis.
Ruzzin almost got it back in the final minute of regulation, creating space atop the box before ripping a grounder towards the far corner. Bierman dove to push it wide.
Before Lee’s chance in PKs, Ralston Valley missed just wide to set up a walk-off scenario.
“I just kept telling myself ‘You know what you want to do. You know where you want to put it. Just make sure it gets there’,” he said. “And it just went in there.”
Williams kept things scoreless earlier on as Ralston Valley controlled play much of the opening half. He almost set up a goal of his own, too.
In the 10th minute, the senior ripped a 70-some-odd-yard free kick — that must’ve felt like a rock with the wind chill in the 20s — and it soared across the field before taking a one-hop into the hands of Bierman. By itself it was rather harmless, but the fact junior forward Oliver Harmon was about a half-step from getting a touch made it one of the Knights’ best chances through 40 minutes.
Later in the frame, Williams was on the ground to make a pair of saves in the 14th and 15th minutes. Off a corner kick, the keeper pushed away a shot through traffic and Kai Bodmer stood up a second chance along the end line. About 30 seconds after that, Williams ran forward to halt a through-ball chance in the box.
“It’s world class,” Ruzzin said. “Saves you can’t even think he’ll make — he’ll make. It’s amazing. The best feeling ever when he makes saves like that.”
The Knights’ last title came at Weidner Field two seasons ago during the pandemic. Williams and Bodmer are the only varsity players from that team.