"In just a couple years, that team has come...just so far," Crested Butte Community School senior defender Woody Martineau declared late Monday afternoon, having just experienced his opponents' increasing success.
And now that team - meaning Bayfield High - will be going even further.
Or farther, literally speaking, once CHSAA's "Selection Sunday" on Oct. 22 has concluded.
The Wolverines clinched the program's first appearance in the Class 3A State Tournament's opening round since 2005 with a 1-0 shutout inside Wolverine Country Stadium. BHS was primed to host Crested Butte after routing the 5A Bloomfield JV 8-nil just three days earlier,
"Going to playoffs was, like, a mystery to us all, and I believe our team played really good," said senior defender/midfielder Colton Fine. "We all, every single one of us, came out knowing that it was going to be one of our hardest games ever, just because of the pressure of making history."
Every bit as hard-hitting physically as any BHS-CBCS clash, the sole breakthrough came in the 28th minute.
Senior Armando Lerma, an Ignacio High student this year by way of Mexico, took senior Marcus Isiordia's set-up pass from the far elbow of the Titans' 18, dribbled a few feet into a straight-on firing position from about 20 yards away, and zinged his shot past goalkeeper Slater Weil.
"The interesting thing about the IML is every school has an advantage of some sort," head coach Chris Zoltowski observed. "For example, Crested Butte does not have a football team, which makes soccer paramount."
"For us, we have those hidden gems located at Ignacio; Armando proved that today. He is a soft-spoken and selfless athlete who thrives on assists. Today at pre-game, I told him the time has come for him to get his, and that he did. I couldn't be more proud of that young man."
"Last time, we didn't have Armando - or Jack Ferguson - and we were kind of down," Fine explained, recalling BHS' 2-1 road loss on Sept. 16 against Crested Butte. "And when I saw them push Armando to his left foot, I knew - Armando's a lefty - it was going to be in right there. Just a beautiful shot."
But despite gaining the upper hand, the real work for Bayfield (11-3-0, 8-3-0 Intermountain) was about to begin. And happiness nearly turned to horror in the 35th, when Crested Butte senior forward Dylan Eaton blasted a shot off keeper Chad Winkler's near post.
Trailing at halftime, the visitors started the second half looking to go big, as in 50-yards-away-big. That's when senior forward Turner Petersen tried catching Winkler too far forward off his line. Winkler wasn't expecting such a long-range cannon shot immediately after the whistle commenced play.
All told, the Titans (6-7-0, 5-5-0) would outshoot the Wolverines by an unofficial 8-2 margin after intermission, and they nearly scored in the 62nd minute. But Winkler, who'd stopped an unexpected penalty kick early in the Bloomfield match, was up to the task.
Too far forward in support of Jason Schneider to backpedal, Winkler approached just a little more and scooped up a shot from Crested Butte.
One minute later, Crested Butte was again threatening but Winkler again smothered what would be the guests' best chance. Able to make a save on sophomore Carlos Franco's long shot from at least 20 yards out, but unable to fully grasp the ball, Winkler saw the rebound go right onto the foot of CBCS junior Tommy Linehan.
But at point-blank range the Wolverine senior fell to the grass, closing the window of opportunity.
"I'm just glad Chad had the vision he needed to slide out, and he called it just in time," Fine said. "It hit his inner thigh; I was like, 'Oooh, that's not a good one,' and then I saw he recovered, got the ball!"
"Our coach just brought it up to us that we're playing hard, but we're down one-zero. We just needed to turn it up a little bit," Titan senior Walker Carroll said, recalling Coach Than Acuff's halftime talk. "One thing he mentioned to us was that (Bayfield) is really, really fast and we've got to play well positionally to make up for their speed. Then just pass it around and try to tire them out."
But though BHS visibly slowed at times amid Crested Butte's rapid bang-bang passing, the squad never lost sight of the ultimate objective and celebrated achieving it by emptying their water cooler upon Zoltowski.
"During our stretching circle we decided, 'Hey, if we win we need to show Coach how much we love him, how much he's worked for us,'" Fine said, "and just give him something he's never had before."
"The boys definitely had me fooled," Zoltowski admitted. "The captains looked serious and said, 'Coach, we need to talk to you.' As a coach, you know it's not good. Next thing I know I'm drenched in ice water!"
"The best part," he continued, "was after I complained about it being so cold, one of the players stole my line: 'Suffer silently, Coach.'"
All told, Crested Butte unofficially outshot Bayfield 12-11 and put eight tries on frame to the Wolverines' six. Winkler totaled nine saves while Weil, a junior, made five, and BHS out-cornered the Titans 5-3 in earning the right to look beyond, but not overlook, the Oct. 20 regular-season finale at Telluride (6-6-1, 5-5-1).
"We shall work for the next three days to beat Telluride," declared Fine. "We are all a family trying to stay united and work our butts off. This is a team very capable of doing damage; we have so many skilled players."