Welcome to the postseason, Nathan Johns.
Finally having earned his varsity spot this season, the junior forward made quite a playoff debut for No. 5 The Classical Academy on Wednesday, scoring three goals to highlight a 7-0 win over No. 28 Longmont as the Titans began defense of their 4A boys’ soccer state championship.
The Titans (15-1) will host No. 21-ranked Steamboat Springs (12-3-1) on Tuesday in a second-round game.
“Nathan had a fantastic game,” Titans coach Blake Galvin said. “He shined tonight. For him to come in and play the way he did, that gives us a light for the future. Hopefully, he can keep that rolling.”
It didn’t take long for TCA to start rolling against Longmont (3-10-3).
Just 6:04 into the game, sophomore Eli Grant – another playoff newbie – sent a crisp centering pass to Jake Slater, who drilled the ball past Trojans keeper Francisco Alaniz.
Johns got into the act next, taking a nice pass from Jonny Stephens off a turnover created after a bad Longmont inbound pass. Not long later, it was Stephens on the receiving end, redirecting a pinpoint volley from Garrett Troupe’s free kick and heading it past a defenseless Alaniz.
“We’ve built great chemistry, and it’s great to see it come together at the end of the season,” said Stephens, one of 10 seniors who experienced the state-title run a year ago. “Last year, we could send long passes to Titus (Grant), and he could get to a lot of balls. This year is a totally new team. We work it around, find openings, we move off the ball and we talk. That’s the soccer I love to play, and it’s great to be part of it.”
The Titans’ speed in the midfield created yet another turnover not quite five minutes into the second half, and Slater pounced on the loose ball, dribbled into the box, then created space to his right before finding the net to extend the lead to 4-0.
Kennan Roewer made it 5-0 with 21:23 left, racing to field a long pass upfield as he caught Alaniz out of position and flicked a 20-yard, looping shot over the keeper and into the net.
Then, with the game out of reach, Johns continued to create chances and added to his memorable debut.
With 7:56 left, he was the recipient of another nice Stephens pass for a goal from close range, then he finished things off with a great individual effort, pouncing on a loose ball and working through the back line to finish the scoring with 2:47 left.
“I’m always looking to end the game playing as hard as when it started,” Johns said. “We all keep pushing forward to the end, and everyone plays for each other. I was pretty nervous before the game. I just prayed a little, and that seemed to calm my nerves.”
Longmont seemed a bit rattled by the playoff atmosphere, unable to secure possession and succumbing to the speed and pressure of TCA’s experienced squad.
“I knew they had a quick 1-2 punch and would be real fast on the ball,” Trojans coach Andy Callaway said. “We tried to prepare for it, but we didn’t come out and execute our best game. Their first goal was a great give-and-go cross, but the next three or four, we helped them out with bad clears and turnovers in our own end. Our team is a lot better than they played today.”