Durango had caught up, but it couldn’t find its way to the front. The slightest slip up saw Steamboat Springs sneak away.
In a 1-1 match reaching the closing minutes of regulation, a miscommunication between Durango High School junior goalkeeper Jocelyn Feir and one of her defensive teammates opened a split-second opportunity for Steamboat Springs junior Peyton Rand to slip through the box onto a misplayed ball and tap home the game-winning goal.
Just like that, the No. 10 Sailors (10-1-0) went past the No. 7 Durango Demons (9-1-1) in a first-round game of the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A Girls Soccer State Championships on Wednesday night in Durango.
The win sent Steamboat Springs into Saturday’s state quarterfinals, where it will travel to face No. 2 Evergreen (11-0).
It was the first loss of the season for a hard-working Demons team that had averaged 4.4 goals per game going into Wednesday’s playoff match.
“It’s unlucky when you feel you have the majority of chances and are playing in their half the majority of the time and things don’t work out,” DHS head coach Melissa Halonen said. “Their second goal, it’s one of those things that happen in sports. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s how it goes.”
DHS thought it had scored early when Maddy McManus collected a ball deflected off the Steamboat Springs goalkeeper and finished a shot. But the goal was disallowed for a close offsides call.
“I didn’t think it was offsides, but I don’t know,” Halonen said. “I am interested to watch the game and see some calls that were made and not made. It’s not anyone else’s fault, but it is always hard when calls don’t go the way you think they should.”
Only moments later, Steamboat would break through for the game’s first goal that would count. It was striker Darby Martinez in the 12th minute who was able to finish a shot past Feir, who would be forced to make a brilliant save shortly after to keep DHS down only one score.
“Steamboat is a good team and played how we thought they would play. There were effective at times playing through us,” Halonen said. “In our league, we haven’t seen a team like that that plays with possession, quick passes, that kind of thing. I felt like we adjusted well and prepared for it, it just didn’t go our way today.”
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, the Demons looked to do a better job of finishing scoring opportunities after they had more chances than the opponent in the first half but were still behind.
“We changed our formation a bit to take care of their center mids who were finding space between us,” Halonen said. “We moved Kyle Rowland into the midfield, and we had figured it out. So, then the message was really that this was our chance to respond. We never had to come from behind before. Now was the chance to do that, and I feel like the girls did.”
In the 47th minute, DHS sophomore Riley Campbell, who had been snake bit much of the season by hitting the goal posts with quality shots, finished one into the net to level the match at 1-1 and energize the Demons. It was her fifth score of the season.
“It was an amazing goal. She took it down her chest, did a half turn and a half volley into the upper part of the net,” Halonen said.
The two sides furiously looked for a go-ahead goal until Rand broke through to capitalize on the Demons’ own mistake in the 75th minute.
“Our keeper was coming out for the ball and our center back headed the ball back to our keeper,” Halonen explained. “Both were moving in opposite directions and not talking to each other. Our center back felt horrible about the whole thing, but those are things that happen. You can’t dwell on them for too long, otherwise you won’t be able to handle playing sports that long.”
The home setback was a tough way for the Demons to go out during a 2021 season that stretched into summer because of year-long schedule alterations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Halonen had taken over the team before the 2020 season but never got to a coach a match that year before spring sports were canceled because of the virus.
After two years, the coach and players suffered their first loss together.
“There were lots of tears,” Halonen said. “It was an emotional kind of day for us. But I told them, ‘Tears are OK right now.’ It means they care. They cared the entire season about this team. I have nothing but great things so say about this group of kids.”
The Demons will lose eight seniors but return a solid core of young talent ahead of the 2022 season. The returners accounted for 19 of the team’s 45 goals in the 11 games played in 2021. They are players who helped DHS deliver its first league championship since 2017 and know what it will take the next time the playoffs come around.
“I am excited about a lot of these girls the next couple of years,” Halonen said. “It’s going to be tough losing eight seniors who all played a really good role in this group of kids, but we have some players coming up who are exciting and even some incoming freshmen, so it will be fun to see what happens with this group the next couple of years”