Titans hold off Rams in thrilling 3A WSL showdown
A late goal from Coal Ridge senior Ishmael Ramirez and a bizarre waved-off goal by the Roaring Fork Rams was the deciding factor in Tuesday’s 4-3 decision for the Titans boys soccer team in an intense, physical 3A Western Slope League showdown at The Pasture in New Castle, ending the Rams’ bid for a 3A WSL regular season championship.
Coming into Tuesday’s game on the road against the Titans, the Rams needed to win Tuesday and Friday afternoon at Delta to secure a league championship, but the Titans had other plans on their home field as Ramirez scored two impressive goals — including the go-ahead goal with just 6:30 remaining —capping off an impressive display of high-level soccer between two powerhouses on the Western Slope. But this game, while exceptionally physical, wouldn’t go down without some controversy as a Roaring Fork goal off of a misplay by Coal Ridge goalkeeper Adrian Hernandez would have given the Rams a big 4-3 lead midway through the second half, but the goal was ruled offsides well after the goal was awarded, setting up Ramirez’s heroics for the Titans, giving him 15 goals on the year in just nine games.
“He [Ishmael] just has a great feel and vision for the net,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Michael Mikalakis said. “The best part is that we were able to play the ball to where it gave him a good scoring opportunities [today].”
Despite the disappointing loss on the road, the Rams put up a strong showing against one of the top teams in the state year-after-year, jumping on the host Titans early as junior Aidan Sloan scored on a tremendous header off of a corner kick, racing into the box unmarked before skying for the ball, heading it into the upper left corner of the net past the stunned Hernandez to give the Rams a 1-0 lead just 11:12 into the game.
Following Sloan’s opening tally, the Titans quickly found their stride offensively as Ramirez scored for the first time in the game, beating three Ram defenders in the box before spinning around to fire a shot past Roaring Fork junior keeper Leo Loya to tie the game at the 12:57 mark of the first half, igniting the home crowd.
After Ramirez tied the game up at 1-all, the Rams refused to back down. For the next 10 minutes or so, Roaring Fork controlled possession and mounted attack after attack towards the Titans’ goal, but each time the Rams couldn’t string together enough touches to get a good shot on net. Once the Titans re-established possession, they didn’t wait long to take a 2-1 lead as senior Marcus Amaya redirected a cross into the box from senior Jordi Serna at the 26:06 mark of the first half, giving the Titans a serious boost offensively.
Roaring Fork put together a couple of good chances late in the half as Hassan Vallejos raced in on goal, cutting into the box before firing a shot just over the crossbar. Later on in the half in stoppage time, Hernandez was forced to come up with a big save on a free kick from junior Max Candela, sending the two teams into the half with the Titans holding a slim 2-1 lead.
Coming out of the break, it was the Titans’ turn to dominate possession as Coal Ridge peppered the Roaring Fork net with shots early in the half, highlighted by a 30-yard blast from senior Ezequiel Vasquez that was stopped by Loya on a hop. Just under nine minutes into the second half, the Titans struck for a third goal as Serna received a great through-ball feed from Vasquez, splitting two Roaring Fork defenders that thought he was offsides, allowing him to race in all alone on goal for a clear shot. The senior tucked it pass the ’keeper to the left post, stretching the Titans’ lead to 3-1.
Shaking off the two-goal deficit, the Rams regrouped offensively and got back to their first-half ways, mounting attacks left and right against the Titans before junior Mikel Mayo blasted home a feed from Sloan to pull the Rams to within one at 3-2 at the 18:35 mark of the second half. Mayo’s goal was set up by a great run down the right wing from Sloan, who beat a Coal Ridge defender to the outside before cutting into the box along the end line to slip a pass across the box to Mayo for the goal.
Trailing by just one and riding a wave of momentum, the Rams struck again quickly as senior Ronald Clemente found a loose ball in the box that deflected away from Mayo, allowing the senior to bury a shot to the far right post five minutes after Mayo’s goal, tying the game at 3-3. That’s when things took a weird turn in a well-played game with a high level of soccer on both sides.
Just over a minute after Clemente’s equalizer, Roaring Fork junior Lazaro Cruz uncorked a great free kick towards the Coal Ridge net where Hernandez attempted to catch the ball cleanly, but the free kick bounced off of his chest and through his arms, right to the waiting Vallejos, who slipped the shot past a scrambling Hernandez, giving the Rams what appeared to be a 4-3 lead with 15 minutes left in the match. As the Rams celebrated and the Titans lined up to get the game going again, the officials decided to wave off the goal on account of an offsides call that was never whistled. The waved-off goal put the two teams back into a 3-3 tie.
“I’m a big proponent of ‘you get what you deserve,’ and tonight I felt like we didn’t get what we deserved,” Roaring Fork Head Coach Nick Forbes said following the loss. “As a coach, to prepare the boys all season for a chance at a possible championship and to have a game decided like that by a call from an official, it’s hard to take. The call was a disservice to a great game that was easily one of the best, closely contested games we’ve been in all season long thanks to high-level soccer being played on both sides.”
Following the negated goal-call, the Titans used the second chance on the game to pull off the win as Ramirez streaked down the left wing behind the Roaring Fork defense and blasted home a shot for a 4-3 lead with just 6:30 left in the game. Hernandez then came up with a huge save on Candela on a free kick, tipping the ball just wide of the right post to preserve the 4-3 lead, giving the Titans a huge win on their home field.
“I told the boys after the game that I was super proud of them,” Forbes said. “I couldn’t have asked for more from them in that game to possibly get a different result. They played their hearts out and left everything out there. While the call is definitely frustrating to try and comprehend, we had a number of chances in the first half that we didn’t bury, which could have made the game much different and taken a possible call out of the picture. That’s on us. But the boys are definitely frustrated with the result.”
With the loss to the Titans, Roaring Fork (11-3, 5-2 3A WSL) is out of the running for a possible league title. They’re now just playing for RPI rankings in 3A soccer, with the season coming to an end Friday afternoon in Delta against the likely league-champion Panthers.
Coal Ridge improves to 11-2-1 (6-1 3A WSL) on the season. By defeating the Rams at home, the Titans will likely jump up a few spots from No. 19 in the 3A RPI rankings. Coal Ridge closes the season Thursday with a home game against Colorado Rocky Mountain School at 4 p.m.