On to the title game for Roaring Fork after state soccer semifinal win over Atlas Prep

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Roaring Fork players celebrates after scoring in a playoff game against Prospect Ridge.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

For the second time in three years, the Roaring Fork High School boys soccer team will have a chance at the school’s first-ever state soccer championship.

The Rams came back from a goal down in the second half of Wednesday’s Class 3A semifinal against Atlas Preparatory School, played at Frederick High north of Denver, to win 3-1.

Senior goalkeeper Jacob Martin had the biggest moment of the game when, up 2-1 headed into the final 12 minutes of play, the Rams were called for a tripping penalty in the box.

“With penalties, there’s nothing you can really do except pick a side before they line up and go with it,” Martin said in a phone interview after the win.

He made the right guess, knocking the ball away to his left, as the Rams held onto the lead then added an insurance goal two minutes later when junior Emi Magana found net for the second time on the night following an Atlas turnover.

“Our team held up super well even after getting scored on first,” Martin said. Come Friday, “we just need to do the same thing, come out hard and play the way we need to, and get a win for our first state championship.”

Roaring Fork will play No. 1 Jefferson Academy at 5:15 p.m. Friday at Switchbacks Weidner Field in Colorado Springs in the championship game. Jefferson Academy beat No. 4 Liberty Common in the other semifinal on Wednesday, 3-0.

Roaring Fork entered its semifinal as the 11th seed versus the No. 2 Atlas Prep Gryphons. The Rams were looking for a return trip to the state championship game after a disappointing COVID-shortened spring season in which they went 6-3 and missed the playoffs.

In 2019, the Rams went 15-3-1 and made it to the 3A state title game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, but fell to the mighty Kent Denver Sun Devils, 5-0.

On a cold night at the Frederick Stadium on Wednesday, it was the 16-3 Rams against the 17-2 Gryphons, who struck first five minutes into the game to make it 1-0.

Atlas held the lead through the remaining 35 minutes of the half, most of which was played in the middle third of the field. The Gryphons nearly went up two in the opening minutes of the second half, when they weaved the ball inside the 18 only to see the shot ring off the left post.

From then on, it was all Roaring Fork.

The equalizer came with 31 minutes left to play when the Atlas keeper made a nice stop on senior Ross Barlow’s shot, which rebounded perfectly to junior Daniel Vega, who booted it into the back of the net.

A little over four minutes later, sophomore Josh Hernandez fed Magana for the go-ahead goal, as the Carbondale faithful who made the trip over exploded in appreciation.

“We have a pattern of going down a goal, but then turning it around and playing heads up,” longtime Roaring Fork coach Nick Forbes said. “When we can do that and play smart, disciplined soccer we can match up with anyone.”

The Rams also benefit from the experience of several players who were part of the 2019 run. Roaring Fork carries a roster of 10 seniors, so there’s extra motivation to take it that next step on Friday, Forbes said.

“We have the mentality to take it all the way, and that experience serves as motivation to practice hard, be coachable and be students of the game,” he said. “The pressure doesn’t get to them too much.”

Forbes also tipped his hat to Atlas Prep.

“They’re a good team, really classy, and with a complementary style of play that made it a fun game to watch,” he said.