It took just a second for Jordi Mahler’s nose to know what the rest of Montezuma-Cortez girls’ soccer already knew.
Needing nothing more than a tie in either of their two remaining 3A Southwestern matches to lock up outright the league title for a second straight season – versus Alamosa at home on Friday, or at Pagosa Springs the next day – the Panthers first won the match they most needed on Thursday. M-CHS celebrated Mahler’s match-winning stoppage-time strike in such a way where the sophomore standout took an accidental, blood-drawing shove to the nose.
“We’re on a streak right now, and I thought we were going to lose that,” said sophomore Luna Moore. “But after that goal went in we were all so excited. It was amazing!”
M-CHS was gifted a close-range rebound opportunity in the 82nd minute by Bayfield backup goalkeeper Kaydence Hunter, who’d leapt to bat down senior Sophia Shepard’s free kick taken from about 30 yards out. Mahler, whose 26th-minute finish of a Shepard assist was the only first-half score, quickly capitalized – not only giving M-CHS a 3-2 road win, but an insurmountable 4-2 head-to-head goal differential over the Wolverines.
Less than 15 scoreboard minutes earlier, Bayfield had appeared destined to even the sides’ season set at one victory each when hearty junior Genesis Barrera – virtually KO’d near the end of the first half by a ball to her own face – received a Sydney Rey throw-in, dribbled the ball to about 15 yards away from M-CHS goalie Aubrey Rutherford’s left/near post, and zinged a shot into the back corner for a 2-1 advantage in the 70th.
Looking to deny Montezuma-Cortez a ninth straight triumph, Bayfield (6-4 overall, 4-2 SWL) almost put the match out of reach in the 73rd, but senior Abria Thayer hit Rutherford’s crossbar from the front edge of the Panthers’ 18. Moments later, Rutherford robbed junior Lily Lewin with a diving, left-handed save and kept the guests’ hopes alive.
Returning to action after intermission, Barrera evened the match at 1-1 with a 48th-minute finish of a Thayer free kick. M-CHS, however, would retie at 2-all when Moore followed up a Mahler shot in the 77th which Hunter – replacing McKenna Noonan, seriously injured at PSHS two days before – initially stopped but couldn’t clutch.
“We’d just played a game against Ridgway, and won 4-1 after losing 4-1 to them in our very first game. I feel like that boosted our confidence,” Moore said, referencing the Panthers’ Tuesday victory in an away contest moved to Montrose after 2A RHS’ field was blanketed by fresh snow.
“Our footwork’s just been getting better, our communication’s been better,” she continued. “We came into this knowing it was going to be a hard game, and we’re all tired, exhausted. We have four games in (five) days right now.”
The busy stretch will conclude with a rescheduled nonleaguer (from March 30) on Tuesday at 2A Telluride.
BHS, meanwhile, will travel to Ridgway (4-4-1 overall before a Intermountain-South match at Crested Butte on Saturday) on Tuesday. BHS will then return to visit 2A Ignacio two days later.
Aftermath: Montezuma-Cortez in fact solidified first place in league on Friday, though not in as dramatic fashion as witnessed inside Wolverine Country Stadium. Hosting AHS, the Panthers (9-3-1, 4-0-1 SWL) failed to put a ball in the net, but so did the Mean Moose (6-5-1, 2-3-1) as the match ended up 0-0 after two 10-minute overtime periods.