After a mixed bag of results from previous first-round playoff games that went to penalty-kick shootouts, Pine Creek found a way to avoid such dramatics again.
So Michael Steffy and friends produced a different kind of drama Thursday in a 5A first-round boys' soccer game against No. 29 Lakewood.
The senior headed Nick Bannister's perfect crossing pass into the net with 6.7 seconds remaining, breaking a tie and sending the No. 4 Eagles to a 2-1 win at District 20 Stadium.
"I played a beautiful ball from Nick, the defender misread it, and I was able to pop it over the goalie," Steffy said. "We beat the clock. It was a really intense game, and we pulled through at the end. I was proud of our guys."
Pine Creek (13-1-2) next will host No. 13 Chatfield (12-3-1) on Wednesday at a time yet to be determined.
In last year's first playoff game, Pine Creek snuck past Ralston Valley, 3-2, winning the sudden-death shootout. The season before, Regis got the upper hand after two scoreless overtime periods.
Thursday's game nearly went to overtime, thanks to David Miller, the Tigers senior defender who tied the game at 1 with 33:50 left in the second half. Miller got open at the left side of the box while awaiting a direct free kick from Max Schechter and headed the ball past Eagles goalkeeper David Meyer.
"We decided to go out and play more physical," Miller said. "It worked out. It helped that we picked up the offense in the second half. It's frustrating to go out with 6 seconds left, but it was still a good game."
The goal gave the Tigers (8-7-1) a jolt of confidence as they kept the speedy Eagles at bay and seemed poised to take the favorites into OT.
With less than 20 seconds left, Steffy picked up a loose ball near midfield and pushed the ball to his left to Jack Reynolds. Reynolds then angled a pass to Bannister near the left corner, and the junior lifted a crisp crossing pass that found Steffy's head, deflecting it past Tigers goalkeeper Fox Maikovich.
Steffy put Pine Creek ahead 1-0 with 16:48 left in the first half, taking a throw-in from Sean Cleary in stride and blasting a 20-yard shot to the far post.
Despite a 17-3 shots advantage - Pine Creek didn't allow a shot on goal in the first half - the Eagles squandered several chances to add to the one-goal lead before halftime.
"We definitely hope we put the game away earlier next time," Bannister said. "We didn't want another overtime game, and we had to keep pushing through until we got the result we wanted. We made sure we stayed composed as a team. That's how you win games."