Vail Mountain boys soccer rallies from a goal down to win 2A state title

Gore Rangers defeat Lotus School for Excellence 2-1 to claim first boys soccer title in school history

Rutley Heinemman scored with 15:40 remaining to give the Gore Rangers a 2-1 lead over the Meteors in the second half of the 2A state title game.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

COLORADO SPRINGS — “Relief is the first word,” a smiling Jake Rainey said moments after No. 1 Vail Mountain School claimed the 2A state boys soccer title with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over No. 6 Lotus School for Excellence on Saturday at Switchbacks Weidner Field. After moving down from 3A to 2A, the pressure for the small mountain school — ranked No. 1 for the majority of the season — to deliver a title was a constant.

“I don’t think it was a heavy burden but it was definitely in the back of our heads,” said Rutley Heinemann, who buried the game-winning second-half goal. “I think we showed today that we deserved this.” 

“When last year’s seniors heard we were moving down to 2A, they were like, ‘you guys better get us a ‘ship,” goalie Mason Geller said. “So, that was in my mind — Nick Kirwood, Conner Provencher, Mack Dorf, all those guys.”

Mason Geller makes an early clear in the 2A state soccer title game Saturday in Colorado Springs.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

Abeneazer Getachew capitalized off of Freddy Peraza’s free kick, batting home the rebound shot right past Geller in the game’s eighth minute to put the Meteors up 1-0. Peraza, who came into the game with 38 goals on the year, bent it like Beckham, according to the goalie.

Abeneazer Getachew scored in the seventh minute of the 2A state championship, giving No. 6 Lotus School for Excellence a 1-0 lead over No. 1 Vail Mountain School.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

“It had a great curve — it was a good kick,” Geller described. “I tried hitting it along the end line and I just didn’t hit it right.” The ball bounced off the goalie’s chest back into the fray. The orange defense didn’t crash fast enough, and Getachew was there for the put-back.

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“Being down 1-0 at halftime is not where we wanted to be,” Rainey said.

“The halftime talk was, ‘stay the course, be patient, we’re the better team, so let’s play like the better team. Don’t play down to their level — it’s going to come down to who wants it more.’” 

The VMS cheering squad was out in full force at Switchbacks Weidner Field on Saturday.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily
The VMS cheering squad was out in full force at Switchbacks Weidner Field on Saturday.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

Lotus School for Excellence, which lost to VMS 4-0 on Sept. 2, appeared poised to cement its giant-killer status; the Meteors’ road to the finals included upsets over No. 3 Thomas MacLaren and No. 2 Bishop Machebauf.

“They had some injured players earlier in the year, so we couldn’t really get the full Lotus experience,” Heinemann said. “So, coming in, we knew they had playmakers, very technical.”

“We knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as the last one. They were here last year, so we knew they had experience,” Nolan Kim added.

It was 26 degrees at the start of the 2A state soccer title between Vail Mountain School and Lotus School for Excellence.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

“But, once we put the nerves behind us, we were able to play our game.”

Feistiness levels continued to increase with every call and collision, but the general tone changed early in the second half.

“Just the way they responded in the first five minutes of that second half, we knew we were going to win,” Rainey said. “You could see the switch flip, you could see Lotus being more conservative.”

Rutley Heinemman scores with 15:40 remaining to give the Gore Rangers a 2-1 lead over the Meteors in the second half of the 2A state title game.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

“We knew we were a better team,” said Javier Braun. “We were just all super nervous — first state finals in our school history — but in the half, we all talked and we all knew we had a good game plan. We stuck with it and pulled through.”

The Gore Rangers were certainly knocking on the door. With 19:43 remaining, Heinemann headed one towards the net from point-blank range, but a stray Meteor foot deflected it away at the last second. The sophomore, head in his hands, could only sigh in utter disbelief at the near score.

Rutley Heinemann cuts through the Lotus School for Excellence defense.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

With 18:49 remaining, VMS simply broke the door down. Streaking down the far side of the field, following a scoring chance, Braun mimicked his momentum-shifting rebound goal from last week’s semifinal, cleaning up a miss off the back post to tie things up.

Vail Mountain School won its first boys state soccer title in Colorado Springs on Saturday.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

“Yeah, same goal,” he said when asked about the eerie comparison. “I guess I learned throughout the season that it always goes back post, so you just gotta be there.”

“The message was stay the course, just keep digging and get a gritty win,” Rainey said. 

Jack Schwartz (10) makes a pass during the state title game on Saturday.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

“Once we got that equalizer, they had to come out of their shell, they couldn’t time-waste, and all of a sudden, the momentum was on our side.”

Just three minutes later, Heinemann escaped on a wide-open breakaway. He veered left and sent a grounder right, beating the goalie easily for the 2-1 lead and sending the Gore Ranger fans into a frenzy. For the player Rainey singled out earlier heading into the postseason as being the culture-setter with his business-like approach to daily drills and mature soccer sense, the young field general’s goal was the kind every kid grows up thinking about.

Rutley Heinemann scores the game-winning goal in the 2A state title game.
Penny Turilli/Courtesy photo

“It’s a dream come true,” Heinemann said about the play afterward. “Scoring the game-winner is pretty amazing.” 

Rutley Heinemann celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal in the 2A state title game.
Penny Turilli/Courtesy photo

The VMS defense was bullet-proof, too, frustrating Peraza’s nifty maneuvers.

“He’s a really talented player; we knew he was their big threat coming forward,” Rainey said. “The goal was to stand him up and force him to send the ball to other players.”

The dependable play of senior Thomas Turili, whose anticipatory knack for disrupting the Meteors’ attack (as well as his notoriously monstrous throw-ins) spearheaded that effort. As Lotus became more desperate, however, the junior star became hungry for looks.

Thomas Turilli keeps the ball away from a Northfield player during the 2A state title game.
Penny Turilli/Courtesy photo

With 14:42 to go, he launched a free kick from 5 yards behind the box. It arched around the five-man Gore Rangers wall, but Geller dove low and to his left for a huge save.

Mason Geller makes a key save during the second half of the 2A state title game.
Penny Turilli/Courtesy photo

“Just my teammates — try to raise up the energy in my team,” Peraza said when asked what he was trying to do to become more offensively involved. “Without my teammates, there’s no me. It’s a team sport, so I need everybody to be on the same page and work together and find the result. We didn’t get it, but it was still a good game.”

Gore Rangers’ coach Jake Rainey chats with an assistant coach with his team trailing 1-0 early in the second half of the state title game.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

The Gore Rangers kept their foot on the gas throughout the final 10 minutes, sticking to the game plan — “attacking wide, moving up together and making sure we’re playing a negative ball, because they tend to swarm,” according to the coach. With 7:24 to go, Heinemann nearly had another goal, but his shot from the wing was blocked down by goalie and captain Fernando Alcantar-Barajas.

Within three minutes, Peraza had another free kick go wide. He did everything in his power to at least make the Vail fans sweat it out, but in the end, he came up short, giving VMS the 2-1 win and its first boys soccer state title ever.

“It’s a tough loss. That’s a good opponent we faced,” Peraza, whose team also fell to Crested Butte last year, said. “We played hard, it was a nice battle. That’s part of the game — you win some, you lose some.”

“Really tough squad, without a doubt,” Rainey said of his team’s opponents.

After feeling the pressure of being the last ones standing for three months, the Gore Rangers were finally able to soak in the long-anticipated celebration.

Tommy Steele gets ready for a free kick early in the second half of the 2A state championship game on Saturday.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

“Really only one team wins the last game of the season,” Geller said. “And we were that team this year, so that’s awesome.” 

“It’s crazy; I can’t describe it,” Braun said.

Peraza offered a message for 2023, declaring, “We’ll be back; next year’s ours.”

Heinemann, who has two more years left, had his own reply. “Oh yeah. Two more — we’ll be back.”

The Vail Mountain School soccer team poses with the state championship trophy and banner after claiming the title with a 2-1 win over Lotus School for Excellence on Saturday.
Courtesy photo

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