PARKER - Leave it to a defender to make the offensive play of the night, one that sent Cheyenne Mountain to the 4A boys' soccer state championship game.
Jake Rodney converted a loose ball into the night's only goal as the Indians held off Evergreen, 1-0 Wednesday at Sports Authority Stadium. The Indians (16-3) will play Pikes Peak Athletic Conference rival Air Academy (18-1) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park for the state title.
"I'm a center back, so I don't get to shoot much," Rodney said. "You have to snap at every opportunity. I looked up, and the ball was right there. It was in slow motion. I hit it looking for a corner. It was unreal."
In a game dominated by defense - Evergreen (15-3-1) had allowed only nine goals all year, while Cheyenne Mountain had surrendered only 10 - quality scoring chances were at a premium.
But with 9:20 left in a scoreless draw, Rodney, a senior defender, pounced on a loose ball on an Evergreen clearing attempt that hit an Indians player. Two Cougars players failed to close on Rodney, who seemingly had all night to shoot.
His shot beat Cougars goalie Matthew Hornbecker to the right post.
"We definitely went into the game knowing one goal was going to decide it," Cougars freshman Griffin Dorsey said. "We were on the bad end of that one. The ball popped right up, and their guy touched it and had a nice shot."
Not quite two minutes earlier at the other end of the field, Evergreen came tantalizingly close to scoring the first goal. Jackson Ingram lofted a corner kick that found the head of Cole Mitchek, but Indians goalie Erich Frey leaped high to swat the ball wide.
The save preserved the 13th shutout for Frey and the Indians.
"Erich came up huge," Indians coach Tomas Martinez said. "Evergreen is a super good team. They don't give up a lot. I knew it would have to be a one-goal game. Luckily, we got it."
Hornbecker kept Cheyenne Mountain off the board with five saves, including a diving stop on a Christian Nehme header early in the second half.
Frey also stopped five Cougars shots, and had a little luck on his side, too. After sprinting out to his right to clear an entry pass, the ball caromed back to defender Borja Garcia, who missed an open net from long range with 28:41 left.
On Saturday, Cheyenne Mountain gets a rematch with Air Academy after suffering a 4-3 home defeat Oct. 1. Much has changed since then for the Indians, who have a pair of 3A state titles but none since moving up to 4A. Air Academy last hoisted the state trophy in 2010.
"We've buttoned things up defensively a lot better since that game," Frey said. "Now, I think we're definitely on the same page. We have players from different styles, and we're mixing that in and finding our style."