This is a unique situation for the Air Academy boys' soccer team.
The Kadets aren't the top-ranked team anymore. They sport a strange number of losses, and the Class 4A state bracket is filled with teams more superior in terms of victories and rankings.
Yet here they are again — just one win from another state title.
No. 5 Air Academy (15-4) is set to face No. 3 Skyview (17-0-2) in Saturday's championship game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. It starts at 4 p.m. The Kadets are aiming for their third straight crown.
Unlike its two previous campaigns, Air Academy is technically considered the underdog. At least in terms of rankings and records. But don't tell that to anyone on the Kadets roster.
"In a lot of ways, this run is similar to the other two years," Kadets senior forward Thaddaeus Dewing said. "Each year, we focus on the next game. We make sure not to think about what's in the future but just play in the moment and play our hearts out."
"When it comes to rankings," coach Espen Hosoien said, "we don't care about that."
Just look at their four losses. Sure, that's a lot for a program that experienced one defeat in two previous seasons. But those setbacks were against teams — including Boulder, Pine Creek, Rampart and Lewis Palmer — that made ultimately deep state playoff runs in their respective bracket.
Rampart advanced to the 5A quarterfinals, while both Pine Creek and Boulder made it to the classification's Final Four before losing.
On Wednesday, the Kadets got redemption on Lewis-Palmer. They beat their league foe 2-1 in the semifinals, thanks to rallying from a one-goal deficit with two second-half scores by Adin Schwenke and Mason Shandy.
This Kadets team boasts six seniors along with a group of juniors and sophomores who were also a part of the 2017 and '18 state title teams. In other words, they are experienced.
"I feel like we had four tough games in the playoffs, and I think that was good for us," Hosoien said. "We'll be ready to compete Saturday."
And to prove their depth, the Kadets are playing at a disadvantage.
Dewing, who leads the Kadets with 28 goals and 16 assists, is at "75 percent" after he hurt his ankle in the playoff opener against Ponderosa, Hosoien said. Meanwhile, team captain Kelton Hooker missed the Lewis-Palmer game because of a knee injury but is expected to be back Saturday.
"If one goes down, someone steps up," Hosoien said.
Despite their circumstances, the Kadets said they feel confident about their chances Saturday. Going back to 2003, this is Skyview's first appearance on the state's biggest stage.
"We know what it takes to win a state championship," Dewing said. "We can't get ahead of our ourselves, just be ready to play every second of every minute. And at the end of the day, if we leave it all on the field, then regardless of the result, we will be successful."