Late-game header sends Coal Ridge soccer to Elite 8

Titans sophomore Brayden Dacuma dribbles past a defender during a state tourney game against Faith Christian on Tuesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Coal Ridge soccer isn’t a corner kick kind of team. Head coach Michael Mikalkis guesses they’ve scored, what, maybe twice off a corner all season?

That all changed on a sunny and mild Tuesday afternoon after the Titans capitalized on a late-game corner kick against Faith Christian, which proved to be a 2-1 game winner.

“I think we’re just growing as a team,” Titans junior Alexis Serna said. “We’re improving every day, at practice, games. We see a leap in our skills, and we end up pushing even harder every day.”

The Eagles were seeded 19th in the Class 3A Colorado High School Athletics Association Boys Soccer State Championships. They advanced to play the Titans at home after dropping 14th-seeded DSST: Conservatory 2-1 in the first round.

Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Third-ranked Coal Ridge is fresh off a 3-1 first-round win over 30th-ranked Sierra, which saw Serna and seniors Ezra Williams and Filberto Marez all nab goals. 

In regards to beating Faith Christian, Mikalkis said it was all about his team settling down and playing their game. It was a win that saw the Titans overcome a one-point deficit.

“We messed up one time and they got the score,” he said. “I think that woke us up again — two playoff games in a row, unfortunately.” 

On Tuesday, it was Titans freshman Giovanni Parker showing his upperclassmen colleagues that age is only a number. Tied 1-1 late in the game, Parker headed in a knuckleball past Eagles goalkeeper Zach Cohoon off a soaring corner kick by Williams.

“I knew Ezra was going to get a perfect cross and I was just there and I hit it as hard as I could have,” Parker said of the play. “I was happy and proud of my captain.”

Titans junior Alexis Serna fights for the ball before he kicks it into the net against Faith Christian on Tuesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Going up 2-1 with 4:13 left to play, it ended up being the deciding goal as the Titans successfully closed out the game.

“We don’t get a lot of corner opportunities,” Mikalkis said. “It’s nice to capitalize on the one that we did today. I think when you’re in a scrum like that, it’s heart and pride that gets the ball in the net.”

No doubt the Eagles’ offense was aggressive in spurts all game. They, in fact, forced the Titans to give up at least four corner kicks in the second half.

Eagles junior Caleb Cassel notched the game’s first goal with 4:16 left in the first half. He dribbled his way into open space near the top of the 18 and banged it home past Titans goalkeeper Jorge Kestler.

“Our team is just so confident,” Parker said. “We knew we were down but we weren’t going to let that bring us down. We’re going to push harder and get that goal.”

Just like that, Faith Christian’s lead proved short-lived. After a Titans free kick, just outside of the Eagle’s 18. bounced off the crossbar, Serna fought hard for a choppy rebound, putting it past Cohoon at 7 seconds left in the half.

“It was a trash goal,” Serna joked. “But it went in.” 

Titans freshman Giovanni Parker celebrates with his team after beating Faith Christian at home Tuesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

The Eagles responded with more sustained offensive ball possession in the second half. At the 26-minute mark, Cassel put another one past Kestler but the goal was ruled offside.

“We just kept pushing through it,” Serna said. “The team was really physical and we kept our heads up, and we played through it with 110% all game.”

The win now means the Titans host 22nd-ranked Middle Park on Saturday. The Panthers picked up a 2-1 second-round upset over 6th-ranked KIPP Denver Collegiate on Tuesday.

“I’m super pumped for our team, seeing us go this far,” Parker said. “We’re going to put in some hard work during practice to make sure everything goes well and we do the best we can.”

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