The soccer ball had yet to touch the ground before Cheyenne Mountain senior Tori Burnett was jumping in place, pumping her right fist and taking off toward midfield after firing a laser into the back of the Evergreen goal less than four minutes into the second half of Wednesday night's 4A quarterfinal against the Cougars.
By the time Burnett reached midfield, the defender was flashing the No. 1 sign high into the sky with both her hands and with good reason. Burnett's goal, just the second of her high school career, broke a scoreless game and sparked the top-seeded Indians to a 1-0 victory over No. 24 Evergreen at Cheyenne Mountain.
"Megan (Chisesi) had a shot that rebounded off a defender and the opportunity was right there," Burnett said. "I was able to finish, it was crazy. It was really incredible to see my team fighting that hard and I got to put one away for us and put us into the semifinals."
Nearly as excited and relieved was Cheyenne Mountain goalie Hunter Peifer. The junior had fended off a scrappy Evergreen (11-5-2) squad in the first half that was coming off upset wins over No. 9 Pueblo Centennial and No. 8 Air Academy.
Peifer tied a season-high with seven saves and none was bigger than her stop on Zoe Peterson with under eight minutes left. Peifer was nothing but a bright neon-orange blur when she leaped into the top right corner to tip away Peterson's shot, eventually sealing the defending 4A state champions a semifinal matchup on Saturday against No. 12 Green Mountain (15-2-1) at Sports Authority Stadium in Parker.
"They were a great team and taking shots from everywhere, so I had to always be on my toes," Peifer said. "That one I just kind of looked up, set my feet and did what I had to do."
Peifer also poked away an opportunity by Cougars leading-scorer Kylee Petrik in the first half by extending her arms toward the left corner.
"I need to buy that girl lunch," Burnett said. "She saved my butt a couple times; she had two clutch punch-over saves."
Both coaches admitted that Evergreen had the better chances in the first half, but Cougars coach Peter Jeans credited Cheyenne Mountain (16-0-2) for playing with the mentality of a defending champion.
"That shows a lot of heart and character from them," he said. "It's hard to beat a champion and they are a champion and they beat us today."
The journey for the Indians hasn't been easy. Wednesday was the team's second consecutive 1-0 victory. The Indians have shut out all three playoff opponents, and Thalia Kusulas was a defensive force against Evergreen.
"I was worried," Cheyenne Mountain coach Tomas Martinez said. "We are the type of team, mentally we have to be there and in the first half we weathered the storm. By halftime we made a few adjustments and talked to the girls about what we needed to do, and it worked thankfully."
Peifer and Burnett understand the stakes only get higher.
"We always talk about how the competition gets better as you move through the playoffs," Burnett said, "but we played in a very good league this year and that is what is preparing us for these tough games."
Peifer added, "We have a target on our back, especially being the No. 1 seed. We just have to bring it every single game."