Connor Durant could see the students crowding the sideline near midfield, but he had to block that distraction out and zone in on Lucas King.
After 110 minutes of play, the Colorado Mesa and Colorado School of Mines men's soccer teams were exhausted — and scoreless. And since Saturday night's game at Community Hospital Unity Field was an NCAA Division II regional playoff game, the tie had to be broken on penalty kicks.
One-on-one, 12 yards out, striker vs. keeper.
Durant, the Mavericks' stellar keeper, had made two huge saves on the Orediggers' first four attempts, and the Mavs' Ethan Anderson stepped forward in the fourth round, tied 2-2.
“It's all about bravery and stepping up and being courageous. I mean, it's not easy, although it's only 12 yards out,” Anderson said. “The amount of pressure that's on you, you have to be brave. I tried to hype my teammates up, give them courage to step up and take it and then whatever happens, happens. I trust my boys.”
As he stood at midfield awaiting his turn, Anderson visualized his shot, then struck the ball with his left foot, sending it into the upper left-hand corner for a 3-2 lead and putting the game in Durant's sure hands.
“A lot of people have different styles, but mine, I knew exactly where I wanted to take it,” Anderson said. “When I'm standing at half envisioning in my head of me walking up and hitting it exactly where I want and then going to celebrate with my team.”
That celebration went from hugs and high-fives to full-on field rush moments later.
As King struck the ball, Durant laid out to his left, knocking the ball away for the clinching save, then scrambled to his feet to join the celebration as the students rushed the field. The Mavericks (16-3-2) advance to the third round at Cal State-Los Angeles the first week of December. The playoffs take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, and after Saturday, the Mavs are thankful for the extended break so they have a few extra days to recover.
Before Anderson's clinching PK, Alec Fronapfel and Colton Shafer each netted their chances. Mines keeper Brian Doherty made a diving save of Isa Trujillo's attempt to give the Orediggers a chance.
Since regular-season games can end in a tie, keepers don't have a lot of experience in shootout situations. They have to trust their instincts — and guess correctly.
“It was surreal,” Durant said. “Honestly, the last penalty shootout I was in, I was 16, so about eight years ago. The biggest thing was I trusted Coach (Brandon) Bautista, his instincts as our assistant coach.
"There was so much confidence that was instilled in me through the players, the coaches, that it all just came full circle. Going into it we were just super confident. I always tell them if they get my back, I'll have theirs and I think that's what happened tonight.”
The defense certainly had Durant's back, turning away the Orediggers every time they threatened to score. Mines (14-4-2) took 26 shots, but put only three on goal because of the defense played by Anderson and his back line teammates.
“There were a lot of big moments in this game,” Anderson said. “We know they're a very good set-piece team so it's all about picking those moments and battling and having fight. Every game from here on out is going to be a battle like this.”
Mines had two point-blank chances in the first overtime with less than six minutes remaining, but CMU's defense blocked both before the ball could get to Durant.
“To get to that point, the amount of shots the defense blocked was unbelievable,” Durant said. “There's so many shots that I should have faced tonight but they were flying around ... and they were able to mke my job a lot easier. I saw that they did that for me in the game and it came to the point where I had to be there for them and just wanted to step up and be there for my team. They've had my back all season.”
Mines controlled the ball much of the first half, but the Mavericks made some adjustments in the second and put more pressure on in the overtime periods, but the Orediggers' defense was just as stout as the Mavs'.
“Two good teams that were going at it, obviously, and both teams had some really good chances,” CMU coach Jon Fridal said. “In the first half we kind of struggled to get our possessions to translate into chances. I think we did a better job of that in the second half and then in the overtime, creating more clear-cut opportunities.
"They had theirs and we had to ride our luck at times, but sometimes you have to do that when you're playing a really good side.”