EDWARDS - Battle Mountain soccer, meet the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Joe LyBarger, meet Andy Banner.
The Huskies blanked Pueblo Centennial, 3-0, Saturday in the second round of the state playoffs to advance to the quarterfinals for the second year in row behind two goals and an assist from Joe LyBarger.
This is the fourth time Battle Mountain has made the quarters (2005, 2006 and 2011), but the first time it's going as an undefeated team at 17-0, the new school record for wins in a soccer season. And LyBarger's two scores bumped his total in 2012 up to 24, tying him for the boys' record for goals in a season with Banner (2004).
"It's just speechless," said LyBarger, who has never been short on words. "It's good to see us in the second round of the playoffs, getting our teammates playing time. We're all sitting there (as starters), watching the countdown. It's like, 'Here we go. We've got another game coming up.'"
The interesting takeaway from Saturday's game is that the Huskies, as a group, don't think they've played their best game yet, and, certainly not in their first two playoff outings.
"We're not sure how good this team can be," Huskies coach David Cope said. "We don't think we've seen the top of this team's ability. That's a nice place to be when you're in the quarterfinals of the state tournament."
Saturday was nice redemption for Huskies goalie Christian Espinoza, who logged his 10th shutout this season. He took responsibility for the goal Greeley Central in the first minute of Thursday's game.
"It was good because all my teammates and teachers during school supported me by saying, 'Keep it up. Mistakes happen. Keepers have short memories,'" Espinoza said. "That helped me."
And although one can never declare a guy with 24 goals in a "slump," all involved in Battle Mountain's camp were happy to see LyBarger get back in the flow. The senior sat two games toward the end of the regular season with a hip-flexor injury and struggled, relatively speaking, in Thursday's playoff game.
"We were looking at Joe struggling the other day, and not getting a goal, and we had three other guys step up," Cope said. "Today, Joe gets back to form and gets two goals. That's the good thing for us. We're very multi-faceted in our attack."
David Suarez, who ran in the state cross-country meet Saturday morning in Colorado Springs, made it back to Edwards in time to assist LyBarger's first goal. It was Roberto Diaz to LyBarger for the second. LyBarger returned the favor to Diaz, who had a sweet header for the third goal.
And with that, the Huskies got their wish. They will take on Evergreen Thursday down in Denver for the quarterfinals. As much as another home game would have been nice - had Golden upset the Cougars - Battle Mountain and Evergreen seem to be an autumn tradition. The Cougars have eliminated the Huskies from the playoffs the last three years.
It's a dragon we have to slay," Cope said. "It's loomed large for a long time. The seeding committee decided to put us below Evergreen, even though in our only common opponent (Steamboat Springs), we feel we did well. Perhaps they knew that part of the script for this team was that we had to go back to Evergreen. The job wasn't done yet. We have to go down there and prove our quality. We have to hold our nerve and go in there with confidence. We have to finish a job that began three years ago."
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.