A large group of Arapahoe High School students and supporters gathered at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Nov. 9 with hopes that the boys soccer team could provide some encouragement to the school that has been rocked by tragic events.
The soccer team, seeded eighth in the Class 5A state soccer playoffs, provided the Arapahoe faithful with a chance to celebrate after winning the state championship with a 2-1 victory over Centennial League rival Grandview.
Arapahoe's title comes after two students died by suicide early this fall and the 2013 shooting at the school that left two students dead.
There were 13 seniors on the Warriors team that finished the season with a 17-1-2 record.
“It feels numbing, surreal,” said Arapahoe coach Mark Hampshire. “I'm thrilled for the boys. They've been through so much. The resiliency is incredible. Our senior boys, all 13 of them, showed great, great leadership regardless of how much time they had on the field.
“This was a special group. Emotionally, this group of seniors had been through a lot, they've lost classmates and close friends. For them to be able to battle through all that, and I'm not just talking about this year. This senior class has dealt with this since the time they were freshmen.”
Arapahoe made its ninth appearance in a state championship game for the boys program and captured the school's sixth title but the first one since 1997.
“It's been so long and everything that has happened at our school, it means a lot to us and all the fans that came out with the huge following that we had,” said senior and team scoring leader Cameron Gail. “We had so many people backing us.
“Once we took down the No. 1 seed (previously unbeaten Fairview) and then beat Broomfield, we knew we had it. We just played our game. It was just the all-around pride. Everyone was so determined to win the state championship. We were looking one game at a time, but we all knew this was the year, and it was.”
Arapahoe used a familiar formula of opportunistic offense and a tenacious defense in front of standout goalkeeper Spencer Cobb.
The Warriors allowed only one goal in the playoffs. That came when Grandview tied the title match in the 10th minute on a goal by Noe Ortiz Pena, which came six minutes after junior defender Garret Lyles scored for Arapahoe following a corner kick by Zander Hahn.
“It was a corner and I just stuck my leg up to hopefully get a foot on it and went in top right,” said Lyles about the opening goal. “Getting the early goal helps. We were underdogs the whole way... It feels amazing to win the championship. We had 13 seniors and they had been waiting for this since their freshman season. We knew we could do it.”
Grandview, however, continued to put pressure on the Warriors' defense and Cobb.
“Grandview took it to us, they are such a talented team,” said Hampshire. “We just weathered the storm.”
Senior midfielder Noah Carl got the game-winning goal in the 68th minute, when he buried a shot after Gail's attempt deflected off a Grandview player.
“I just saw the open net and then finished it,” said Carl. “It was my second goal of the season. It's the most amazing feeling I've ever had.”
The Arapahoe back line of Lyles, Hahn, Travis Sawyer, Zach Miller and others played well and Cobb once again was reliable. However, after Carl's goal, Grandview never got a shot on goal despite controlling the possession as the Warriors were content to stay back and play defense.
“Spencer Cobb, in my humble opinion, is the best goalkeeper in the state,” said Hampshire. “He's only given up a total of six goals all season. He was fantastic.”
Cobb made eight saves against Grandview and he was also the key player in a shootout semifinal win over defending state champion Broomfield on Nov. 7. He stopped 10 shots against the Eagles.
Both teams had chances to score in regulation time, which ended in a scoreless deadlock. Each team had chances in the two 15-minute overtimes and Arapahoe's Hahn twice kicked out possible Eagles' goals as the outcome came down to a shootout, where five shooters alternate penalty shots and the shootout continues if neither team has won after the first five rounds.
The first three shooters of each team scored but it came down to Broomfield having a chance to win on their fifth shooter, but Cobb made a save to prolong the shootout.
Arapahoe's Liam Anderson scored to give the Warriors a 4-3 advantage and then Cobb stopped a shot by Cade Austin to set off a victory celebration.
“It was all about doing whatever you can do to play with these seniors one more time,” said Cobb. “My center back (Hahn) saved me two times and I owed it to him and to the team to make two big saves. The first three or four shots in the shootout were well taken. It's hard to tell sometimes. I just try to look at hips and where they line up.
Cobb's effort in the shootout went beyond expectations.
“We usually ask him to save one but to come out and do what he did is amazing,” Hampshire said.
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