COMMERCE CITY — Air Academy's Ryan Self sat in the stands of Dick's Sporting Goods Park his freshman year as he watched the Kadets complete an undefeated season with a state championship.
"I was up there freshman year," Self said, gesturing to the stands. "I was watching the 2014 team that went undefeated, and I thought, 'That's what I want to have happen. That's what I want my senior year.'"
In his senior year, Self put the game winning goal into the net to give Air Academy a 1-0 win over Centaurus in the Class 4A boys soccer state championship. Self completed his goal and Air Academy's undefeated season.
"Part of me was like, 'Finally' because we had so many chances," Self said after the game. "At the same time, I was overrun with adrenaline and emotions. I thought, 'How am I going to celebrate?'"
Self went with a slide. His teammates followed suit, jumping on the dogpile. Air Academy now moves into a tie for the third-most soccer titles with four.
"We have a great legacy, a great program here," Self said. "It means so much to us. It means the world. I know these boys next year, they're going to keep it going. No doubt."
The Kadets completed an undefeated season with a state title just three years after doing exactly that.
"This is just a team thing," Air Academy coach Espen Hosoien said. "We have everybody pulling their weight and doing their job. For me, to be 20-0 again, three years after the last one, I never thought that was going to happen."
Air Academy had an early exit in last year's state playoffs after getting upset by No. 20-seed Evergreen. This year, they weren't going to let an upset end their season.
"We kept trying to go over the top. We were possessing around it pretty well," Self said. "We started going direct, and that started working for us. Beating them on the outsides and trying to whip it in. We got a lot of corners out of that, which created a lot of chances for sure."
Each goalie made terrific saves as both teams had a couple golden opportunities in the 57th minute. Air Academy's Thomas Beatty came up with an enormous save in the 62nd minute.
"Keep going. Keep playing and keep a clear mind," Hosoien said on what he told his team. "That usually helps. We wanted to go in more direct instead of possessing the ball."
Centaurus' Fernando Ruiz was in on goal and shot, but Beatty was there to keep the game tied at zero.
The Warriors chances didn't stop there. In the final minute of regulation, an Air Academy hand ball in the box gave Centaurus a penalty kick.
The shot went high, sending the game to overtime.
"I feel for Centaurus," Hosoien said. "I thought they played really good and gave us a lot of problems. Somebody has to walk away not winning the championship. They played a heck of a game."
Air Academy found the net in overtime with Self's goal off of a set piece.
"Set piece wins it," Hosoien said. "That''s soccer man, you could play brilliant for 90 minutes and you score on a set piece. We've been in overtimes before, and we've always prevailed. I felt like we had a shot of winning."
And they prevailed in the ultimate moment.
"It wasn't easy. We had a lot of tests all along, even in the regular season," Hosoien said. "We found a way to be on the winning side of things. That's the character of these guys on the team. All 22 of them. Keep going, keep believing, trust in the preparation and trust in eachother.
"Every year, we're trying to add to Air Academy soccer."