For the first 70 minutes of action, the No. 3 overall seed in the Class 5A girls soccer playoffs found itself flustered and frustrated.
At home Tuesday at Walker Field against 30th-seeded Brighton, Fruita Monument had its pace early — Lila Dere only needed 21 seconds to score her 30th goal of the year after a through pass by Laurel Storheim — but not often.
With less than 10 minutes remaining and the scored tied 1-1, the prospect of overtime became more realistic.
An ill-timed tackle changed everything.
Brighton goalkeeper Kenzie Byrnes left the box to challenge an attacking Kylie Wells, but Byrnes collided with Wells' legs, not the ball. As a result, Byrnes was given a red card, limiting the Bulldogs to 10 players and forcing Brighton to play their backup goalkeeper.
Dere took over from there, scoring three goals in the final 8:12 to lift the Wildcats to a 4-1 first-round victory.
"They were kind of down our throats a little bit," Dere said, also noting that playing in the heat of the day was also a strange feeling for a unit so accustomed to playing under the lights.
Dere started the scoring almost immediately, setting the stage for a Fruita (13-3) romp. However, Brighton (9-7) controlled the pace from there, limiting the Wildcats' ability to get into the frantic tempo they enjoy through physicality and possession.
The Bulldogs made that change in pace count with 8:50 left in the first half, when Paige Vogel scored from nearly 25 yards away into the bottom left corner past a diving Autumn Smith to tie the game at 1-1.
Brighton had chances to take the lead. Early in the second half, Tori Rydzeski had two one-on-one breakaways with Smith, but her first shot went wide right and her second went wide left.
"It's not just the second half or the second half of the game where we need to make things happen," said Fruita coach Ethan Johnson. "We have to play a full game. We can't come out, score in the first 20, then be happy for another 20 and not really do much."
Not much was happening for the Wildcats until Byrnes' red card allowed Fruita to flip the game on its head — with Wells playing a major role.
In the midst of a counterattack and with a numbers advantage, Wells calmly passed forward to Dere, who ran right into the box before rolling the ball to the left of Brighton back-up goalie Katie Powers.
The red card had turned the tide entirely.
"I think it gave us good momentum and I was just counting on my team," Wells said. "Lila played a perfect ball to me and I happened to get on the end of it."
Dere and Fruita weren't satisfied with a 2-1 lead, even with a player advantage as well as an advantage on the clock.
Not even a full 90 seconds later, Dere dribbled past a defender on the right side of the field, sprinted into the box from the right side, cut left past Powers and scored for a 3-1 advantage.
She added a header with a minute left to up her goal total to four. Dere leads 5A with 33 goals this season. The junior has 93 in her career.
"I just tried to stay patient and my team was there for me at all times," Dere said. "We stayed positive, kept pushing and got it. We feel so good."
The Wildcats face Ralston Valley on Friday at Walker Field with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
Ralston Valley 2, Grand Junction 1, OT: The Tigers were 43.9 seconds away from a rematch with Fruita before suffering a heartbreaking defeat.
The No. 19 seeded Tigers (10-5-1) took the lead early in the second half in Arvada on a long shot by sophomore Katy Coffin.
However, Ralston Valley (11-3-2) freshman Saya Sabus scored from outside the box with 43.9 seconds left to tie the game. Eight minutes into overtime, Brooklyn Garrido scored to the end the Tigers' season.