COMMERCE CITY — There is something about Dick’s Sporting Goods Park that just brings out the best in Pace Billings and his teammates.
For the fifth time in six seasons, Kent Denver’s boys soccer team left Commerce City with the Class 3A state trophy in their hands. For the second year in a row, it was Billings who provided the spark. One year after scoring a pair of goals in the title game, the senior gave his team a big lift Saturday afternoon with three consecutive goals in the second half.
The surge sent Kent Denver to a 5-0 victory over Roaring Fork, capping off a perfect 20-0 season.
“We’ve got a tremendous senior class, and they have led us through thick and thin,” Sun Devils coach Arty Smith said. “It was one of those seasons where I, as the head coach, was able to defer a lot of the leadership to this senior class.
“This season, the 20-0 record, it is the senior class that owns that. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Kent Denver won championships in 2014-16 and again in 2018, but the team had never finished unbeaten in that stretch. The team is 112-3-4 since 2014, and the senior class goes out with three titles in four years.
“We’ve had a core bunch of seniors on the team since freshman year when we won the state title,” Billings said. “We’ve been working and working and got to be the best we’ve ever been.”
Fifth-seeded Roaring Fork (15-3-1) played Kent Denver as tough as anyone had this season through the first 50 minutes of play. It wasn’t until 10 minutes had gone by in the second half that Kent Denver finally broke through, as Rawson Welch sent a perfect cross to the left side of the field. Billings was there to finish it off, putting the team on top to stay.
“We practice crossing all the time. We put it in the mix, as our coach likes to say,” Billings said. “It was a great ball. He made it easy for me.”
Midway through the second half Billings again took a cross, this time from Max Hewitt, and punched it home to make it 2-0. That ignited a three-goal outburst in less than three minutes, with Billings and Hewitt adding goals.
“Before the game we talked about being patient. We figured Roaring Fork would try to stay very organized defensively, and they did,” Smith said. “I thought in the first half we had the better possession and probably wore them out a little bit. We got that first one, and I think Roaring Fork probably had to come out of their shell a little bit. It gave us a little bit more space, and then kind of the floodgates opened.”
Layton Purchase added a goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining to cap the scoring.
For Pace, scoring five goals at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in two years is a good feeling, but the senior was quick to point out that he doesn’t get those without his teammates.
“It’s lucky that comes at this time, but it’s not just me. I credit all of my teammates and everybody for helping me get there,” Billings said. “They’re team goals, but it’s good that it comes here.”
Roaring Fork keeper Noah Wheeless faced a steady attack throughout the game, finishing with 10 saves. The Sun Devils backline didn’t allow much pressure though on the other end for senior keeper Joey Waldbaum, who had to make only one first-half save.
Smith said next fall will be much different, given how many players will graduate. He said the junior class will pick up the mantle, and much of that legacy will be because of this year’s seniors.
“It will be the turning of the page next year,” Smith said. “I think we have 14 seniors, and we’re going to miss every single one of them. But certainly their legacy will live on.”