Kent Denver dashes Roaring Fork soccer’s title hopes in 3A championship game
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
COMMERCE CITY — For 50 minutes of play in the 3A state high school soccer final Saturday, it seemed quite possible Carbondale’s Roaring Fork Rams just might pull off the seemingly impossible.
But a four-goal scoring barrage by Kent Denver over a 15-minute span in the second half saw it all come crashing down.
In the end, the second-seeded Sun Devils were state champs for a second straight year by virtue of a 5-0 shutout over No. 5 Roaring Fork, and the Rams were relegated to runner-up.
“We were right there with them that whole first half, pretty much neck and neck, and it really felt like we had a good chance,” Rams senior Lucas Schramer said as he left the field at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
“Then, we just let a couple slide, and it all seemed to come right at once,” he said.
All at once is right, as Kent Denver senior forward Pace Billings broke it open with just over 30 minutes showing on the second-half clock to give the Sun Devils the 1-0 advantage.
After Rams junior goalkeeper Noah Wheeless made several impressive saves, Kent Denver pushed the ball into heavy traffic in front of the net, when a ricochet gave Billings a wide-open shot just inside the left post.
Not 15 minutes later, it was all but over, as Billings had scored two more goals, the second off a Sun Devils’ corner kick, for a hat trick on the day.
“That first half, to shut them out, I was so confident in our team,” Wheeless said. “My defense was on lock, but the offense was struggling a little bit with just two shots on goal. Their defense is just really tough.”
After the Rams dialed up some offensive pressure in the first three minutes of the second half, the momentum turned Kent’s way.
“They just found the gaps in my defense and started playing to their wings and coming in close to the two-hole,” Wheeless said. “They were just right in my box, and there was nothing I could do.”
Nonetheless, “I love my team, and I’m proud of how we played,” he said.
Kent senior Max Hewitt added another goal just over a minute after Billings’ third, and then senior Layton Purchase added the fifth goal with seven minutes left to play.
The Rams had several scoring opportunities in the first half, including a header shot from senior Dylan Webster off a free kick in the 31st minute that sailed just high over the crossbar. Two minutes into the second half, Webster had an open shot that went just wide left.
Roaring Fork coach Nick Forbes said it’s one more big step for a program that’s made the final four of the 3A playoffs the last two seasons.
“We’re going to keep building, and we’ll see you again next year in the same game,” he vowed, while crediting the Kent Denver program.
“From back to front, they’re just a really strong program,” Forbes said. “It’s hard coming from a public school and matching those resources and a program that’s so established.”
Kent coach Arty Smith also commended the Roaring Fork program.
“Coach Forbes did a great job; they were well-organized and obviously we couldn’t break them down in that first half,” Smith said. “They just always had an answer for anything we threw at them.”
Patience paid off for the Sun Devils, though, who forced the Rams to open it up after the first goal and were able to create the follow-up scoring chances.
“But boy, Roaring Fork, that is a very good soccer team, and they’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Smith said. “They showed a lot of heart and a lot of spirit, and I’m sure they’re going to be back.”
The championship game marked the final game in a Rams uniform for seniors Schramer, Webster, Connor Brennan, Johnny Delgado, Frankie Harrington, Aidan Foote and Sawyer Shook.
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Studies by Colorado Parks and Wildlife show the survival of elk calves in the Roaring Fork Valley has dropped about 33 percent in the last decade. White River National Forest officials said they need to act to try to reserve that trend. They are seeking public comment on their plan.