(7) Centaurus 2, (3) Niwot 0
AURORA — History exploded off his foot, coming at the end of a brilliant run that weaved through white shirts.
Christian Nunez, a sophomore at Centaurus, sprinted through the Niwot defense and then placed a shot in the bottom right corner of the net for a go-ahead goal in the Class 4A boys soccer semifinals on Wednesday. It was the spark that ignited a 2-0 win for the Warriors, lifting the program to its first-ever appearance in a championship game.
It is also just the second appearance in a title game in any sport for Centaurus since 1995.
"It's unbelievable," coach Lee Stanley said. "It's beyond expectation. These guys have been playing with heart all season, and you talk about playoffs being all heart. They've done it, playing for each other.
"Our culture is being happy for each other's successes, and they have shown it all season long. It was spectacular."
The game was a stalemate until Nunez's goal, which came with 14:09 to play.
"This is awesome," Nunez said. "I mean Centaurus hasn't been to the finals, so it feels great to be the first ones to take them."
Both teams had their chances, including a shot from Niwot's Jason Rodriguez after a cross that ricocheted off the left post with 30 minutes remaining.
"We talked in the field house (at halftime) about not losing the game. We wanted them to have to win it. We didn't want to lose it," Stanley said. "We thought a mistake on our part would be the only thing that would really lose the game for us.
"If we kept playing the way we were playing, possessing the way we were possessing the in first half, the goal was going to come eventually. They just kept fighting, and got two."
Indeed, Raudel Manjarrez, another sophomore, put the game away with a second goal for Centaurus with 3:56 to play.
It ensured a historic appearance in Saturday's 4A championship game. Aside from an appearance by the school's co-op girls lacrosse team in the 2013 final, no Warriors squad has made a team final since its football team did in 1995.
"There's been so much support from the school. Everybody's been so excited over the last couple of days. I've gotten uncountable messages from teachers I don't even know congratulating us," Stanley said. "This is huge for the school. Huge."
Added Nunez: "I think it means a lot. We've got to take the opportunity, and give it our best."
(1) Air Academy 2, (5) The Classical Academy 0
AURORA — Kristian Hooker gave his team an all-important first goal, and now Air Academy boys soccer is headed to play for a championship.
Hooker, an Air Academy senior, stepped up to for a penalty kick early in the first half and buried it to the right of The Classical Academy goalkeeper Brock Rowedder. The top-seeded Kadets, now 19-0-0 this season, went on to beat TCA 2-0 in the 4A semifinals on Wednesday.
"I was focusing on just getting it on net and putting it to the side," Hooker said after the match of the goal, his team-leading 18th of the season. "I always try to look at the keeper to see what he looks like he's about to do, especially his dominant-side hand. I just went to his right side and hoped it went in, and it did."
The goal seemed to relax Air Academy a bit.
"That first goal is definitely a huge help for our team," Hooker said. "The last couple of games, we haven't gotten the first goal, so that just adds on to the pressure that comes with our record, and being (seeded) first in state.
"It's a lot of pressure going, and everyone wants to knock us off, but we can definitely handle it. Getting that first goal definitely settles the nerves and helps us out a lot."
Air Academy had good pressure throughout the first half, but the Titans' Rowedder was equal to the task. He had a diving save on another chance from Hooker a few minutes later — this one coming on a free kick just outside the penalty area.
But the Kadets kept coming. Ryan Self hit the crossbar on a long shot with 14 minutes remaining in the half, and then Luke Louthan gave his team a 2-0 lead after settling a cross in close.
"We were a little standoffish (early)," Air Academy coach Espen Hosoien said. "I think they got caught up a little bit on the circumstances, being a semifinal, so I was just kind of waiting for a little bit of spark.
"I think that (first goal) helped us settle a down a little bit, I thought we played better after that," Hosoien added. "It was nice to get a second goal, as well."
Air Academy moves to the championship match for the first time since 2014, when the Kadets won the 4A title. It will be the program's seventh trip to a title game.
The loss snapped a four-year streak in which The Classical Academy had made an appearance in a championship game, including the past three 4A title games.
The 4A championship is scheduled 10:30 a.m. at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday.