ENGLEWOOD | Last season’s trip to the Class 5A state quarterfinals was forgettable in the final result — a five-goal loss to the eventual state champions — but not in terms of experience for the Cherokee Trail boys soccer team.
The numerous returning Cougars channeled what they went through into confidence in their return to the pitch at Englewood High School in the same round, when they faced a program (Legend) that was there for the first time.
Cherokee Trail handled the situation with confidence this time around and made history, as a 2-0 victory in the last of four quarterfinal contests put the program into the semifinals for the first time.
“It is super exciting, we made some history tonight and the boys absolutely deserved it,” Cougars coach Mark Hill said.
Junior Peter Eugenio scored in the first half and senior Gregory Hanson added another in the second half for the Cougars, who will play No. 7 Broomfield Tuesday at CIBER Field at the University of Denver.
After two dramatic wins to open the playoffs — a 1-0 overtime victory over No. 19 Valor Christian in the first round followed by a 2-1 road win over No. 3 Rampart in the second round — Cherokee Trail was able to large dictate the play against Legend (12-4-2).
Hill said the Cougars benefited from the knowledge gained from a preseason scrimmage against the Titans and that background, coupled with his team’s comfort after playing in the quarterfinals last season contributed to confidence on the field.
“There was a good feeling in the lockerroom and the boys were just ready for the game,” Hill said.
The dynamic Eugenio was deployed as a striker instead of his usual offensive midfield position and the moved paid off as he scored his first goal since Oct. 21.
Senior Marcelo Ruiz played a ball into the box to Eugenio, who lost his footing, but popped back up and maintained possession inside a ring of defenders. He got off an odd-angled shot that ripped the net with just over a minute left in the half.
It was gratifying to watch for Hill, who saw Eugenio’s disappointment over not converting some chances to score at key times in the 2022 quarterfinal loss.
“I told him, ‘you’re going to get the game winner, this is your night,’ to help build his confidence,” Hill said. “He had been hanging on to that Denver East game all year, so to see the glow on his face after the game was great.”
Hanson hadn’t scored a goal in nearly two months, but he came up with an effort score that provided some breathing room for Cherokee Trail.
With keeping senior Blake Garrett playing confidently in the net behind a veteran line of defenders, Cherokee Trail became only the second team to shut out Legend this season. It was the Cougars’ 11th shutout of the season.
Next up is a rematch with a Broomfield team that defeated Cherokee Trail 4-1 back on Sept. 12.
“We don’t have a lot of time to get ready with a practice on Monday and then the game on Tuesday, but we definitely have motivation,” Hill said.
Another Aurora program — No. 9 Regis Jesuit — will play in the other semifinal. The Raiders defeated No. 16 Liberty 4-1 and will face fourth-seeded Denver East (which topped No. 3 Arapahoe) for one of the two spots in the Nov. 11 5A title game at Weidner Field in Colorado Springs.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter/X: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2023 CLASS 5A BOYS SOCCER STATE QUARTERFINALS
Nov. 4 at Englewood High School
(14) CHEROKEE TRAIL 2, (11) LEGEND 0
Score by halves:
Legend 0 0 — 0
Cher. Trail 1 1 — 2
Cherokee Trail — Peter Eugenio
Cherokee Trail — Gregory Hanson