COMMERCE CITY — Noah Carl may have had only one goal to his credit coming into the Class 5A state championship game, but the Arapahoe midfielder was in the right place at the right time Friday night.
With the game tied up and the clocking ticking away in the second half, a pass to the middle of the field found Carl standing by himself. The senior’s shot wasn’t the hardest-hit ball of the night, but it found an opening on the left side of the net in the 68th minute of play.
That proved to be the deciding moment as the Warriors captured their first 5A title since 1997 with a 2-1 victory over Grandview at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“It felt like my strike took like 30 seconds,” Carl said, shaking his head. “It felt unreal.
“But as soon as I saw the ball, I knew I was going to finish it.”
Arapahoe (17-1-2 overall ) capped off its storied run as the No. 8 seed in the field. Along the way the Warriors took out top-seeded and previously undefeated Fairview, then won a shootout over defending state champion Broomfield in the semifinals.
Playing for the championship for the first time since defeating Columbine 21 years ago, Arapahoe got the job done for its senior class, which has struggled with the tragedy of losing two seniors to suicide earlier this school year.
“It rocked our entire senior class,” Arapahoe senior goalkeeper Spencer Cobb said. “We have 13 seniors on this team, and that’s who we were playing for tonight.”
Third-seeded Grandview (17-2-1) overcame an early goal from Arapahoe’s Garret Lyles off a corner kick in the fourth minute of play. The Wolves scored the equalizer on a nice ball from Noe Ortiz Pena, and then continued the offensive onslaught by peppering Cobb with ball after ball over the next 45 minutes of play.
Grandview had seven shots on goal in the first half and quickly put three more on Cobb in the second half, but couldn’t quite find a way past the Warriors senior. Even a pair of corner kicks in the final two minutes of the first half, followed by two more in the opening minutes of the second half, couldn’t faze the Arapahoe defense.
“At halftime it almost felt like we were down, just because we weren’t playing our best soccer yet,” said Cobb, who finished with nine saves. “But we know that this is a super resilient group. We don’t need to play out of our minds to play good because we’re so organized and we have such good camaraderie.
“It got us through the second half without letting up a goal.”
With less than 13 minutes remaining in regulation, Arapahoe was trying to find an opening in a Grandview defense that had been so tough all night. A ball was sent into the middle, and Carl’s strike lit a fire under a Warriors team that didn’t allow another shot on goal the rest of the way. Even a pair of late free kicks in front of the net that were well-placed were quickly cleared out before any damage could be done.
“My backs are crazy good. I couldn’t ask for a better team,” Cobb said. “Every single person on this team has an important role, and it’s the reason we won state.”
Cobi Wood finished with four saves for Grandview, which is senior-heavy like the Warriors. The Wolves have 17 seniors in a program that was making its first state championship appearance since 2007.
But Arapahoe just wasn’t going to be denied after a fall that had brought both heartache and joy.
“It means so much to me. I can’t believe it’s real,” Cobb said. “Everything we’ve done since freshman year … we talked about playing at Dick’s tonight. It just feels surreal.”