COLORADO SPRINGS — In just the program’s 11th season, Jefferson Academy boys soccer has quickly become a Class 3A powerhouse. But the final checkmark of a state championship will have to wait at least another year.
After taking an early 1-0 lead in Friday’s 3A state title game at Switchbacks Weidner Field in Colorado Springs, the top-seeded Jaguars couldn’t maintain it as they suffered their first loss of the season, 2-1. It was the 11-seeded Roaring Fork Rams who were responsible for the Jags’ heartbreak.
Six seasons after losing in the 2016 state title game, the Jaguars came up just short once again.
“It’s always hard when you come out and you don’t execute in the final game,” said Jaguars head coach Matt Cassell. “Give it to Roaring Fork, they put us under pressure all over the field. It just wasn’t our night.”
Cassell, the program’s first and only leader, still had plenty of admiration for his Jaguars.
“These guys have just overcame so much and (it has been) an incredible, incredible journey with them,” Cassell said. “It’s probably my favorite season I’ve had just because of how they’ve rose to the occasion all the time. I could go through every one of these players, they’re are all great kids, all great players.”
Playing on the turf of Weidner Field, the first half from both sides lived up to the state championship game expectations.
From well outside the box, Jefferson Academy senior Chyler Ward scored the game’s first goal in the 12th minute. The Jaguars’ leading scorer didn’t hold anything back and found the upper-left corner of the net. The goal was Ward’s 24th of the season.
“He has been a revelation this year,” Cassell said. “What a great moment for him.”
But the 1-0 lead didn’t last long enough for Jefferson Academy.
With a mere 48 seconds remaining in the first half, Roaring Fork ricochet a ball off the left post that found Rams senior Ivy Ortiz, who then scored the equalizer.
The contest remained tied until the 66th minute when Roaring Fork’s Josh Hernandez gave the Rams a 2-1 advantage. Soon after, Jefferson Academy senior Andrew Smith had a strong, but unsuccessful, shot on goal. The Jaguars forced the tempo but were unable to execute in the game’s final minutes.
“I’m happy they had this opportunity,” Cassell said. “I wanted them to be able to be called a state champion, but they’re still champions.”