“I really think we played the prettiest game of the season. We possessed the ball 80 minutes of the game. We just were not supposed to win, I guess,” head coach Jim Pavlich said.
After having the game delayed a day because Sand Creek failed to show up at the scheduled Wednesday kickoff time due to bad weather (or, as was rumored, that the Front Range team lost their way to the Western slope), the Indians took to the field last Thursday in front of a big and supportive hometown crowd. The Montrose boys played their game, with a strong defense and an attacking offense. In the first half, Montrose took 10 shots on goal, and denied the Sand Creek Scorpions any shots. Coming into the playoffs, Sand Creek’s two leading scorers were potentially dangerous, having recorded 17 and 20 goals for the season, respectively, but the Montrose back line was able to keep them in check with tight, physical defensive play. The first half ended in a scoreless draw.
The Indians came out in the second half with a deliberate and fast paced attack, volleying off a few more shots at the start of the second half. The team was moving the ball well the entire game, according to Pavlich.
“We were putting six to eight passes together, and we played evenly throughout the game,” Pavlich said.
Although the Indians were in possession most of the game, there was a lull around the 60-minute mark. A quick and fatal counter attack by the Scorpions gave them a 1-0 lead with 20 minutes left to play.
“We were making changes in the lineup and the team was frustrated because they could not make it in. There were six to eight minutes without control,” Pavlich said.
The Indians played relentlessly for the rest of the game, taking every ball down deep in front of the Scorpions goal and shooting at will, but nothing would find the back of the net. Montrose out-shot the Scorpions, 22-7, but the Sand Creek goalkeeper was able to handle the onslaught of shots.
“They played beautifully. The only problem was we did not finish,” Pavlich said.
According to Pavlich, Sand Creek played a “turtle defense,” putting as many as ten players in their own 18-yard penalty box to keep the Indians scoreless. With a 1-0 lead, the strategy worked in the Scorpions’ favor. The pressure of the over-packed defense forced Montrose to rush their shots. Although their shots were on frame, the attempts went straight to the keeper again and again.
“We had expectations for the post season that we did not meet. In sports, there is that finality after a game that creates the tension that makes it worth doing,” Pavlich said.
Sadly, the Indians’ only loss of the season had to be the one that ended it. Other Western Slope teams that tied with Montrose during the regular season had better luck in the first round of playoffs. Durango beat Valor Christian, 2-0, but then fell to Evergreen, 4-1, on Saturday in the second round. Battle Mountain defeated Lewis Palmer, 3-1, and went on to defeat the Indians’ first round opponent, Sand Creek, in a score of 7-1 on Saturday. But the team with so much promise, based on their regular season play, could not make a comeback to the 1-0 deficit, and the Indians state playoff run ended way too early. Pavlich attributes the team’s strength this season to their trust in each other, which helped them come back five other times this season.
“They were the most coachable team I have ever had. They were genuinely balanced. There were no standouts; they all worked together to meet their goals,” Pavlich said.
Pavlich believes every season gives him more experience as a coach, but more importantly, the returning players will use their disappointment as fuel for next season. There will be seven returning starters for the Indians for next year.
“The juniors will remember, and I think we will see that next year,” Pavlich said.
Even though the playoffs were heartbreaking for Montrose, they had a noteworthy season otherwise. This year’s team was one of a handful of Montrose soccer teams to go undefeated in the regular season. The boys also earned their fourth consecutive South Western League title – the first time this has ever happened.
“They took their place in soccer history at this school. They deserve to be remembered,” Pavlich said.