Disappointment set into the Durango High School boys soccer players Thursday morning when they learned they likely had lost an opportunity to win a league championship. But the Demons pulled together with their seniors in mind Friday.
When Montrose (6-3, 6-2 SWL) beat Grand Junction 2-0 on Wednesday night, Durango’s chances at the 5A/4A Southwestern League title were likely lost. Then, Montrose finished off the league championship Friday night with a 6-0 win against struggling Grand Junction Central. DHS could come only as close as second, one point behind its rival, with a win Friday against Grand Junction.
With a title not in the balance, DHS (6-1-2, 5-1-2 SWL) focused instead on sending its seniors off in style Friday night against the Tigers (5-2-2, 4-2-1 SWL). Fittingly, senior Sayer Frontella scored Durango’s first goal in the 24th minute in what would become a 4-0 win for the Demons.
“I think tonight we showed that Montrose does not deserve this league title,” said Frontella, the league’s leading scorer with 14 goals and five assists. “We showed we are the best team. A few hiccups against Fruita on some ties, but we are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. I’m super proud of the boys no matter how it ends up.”
With the boys soccer season postponed from the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the spring season was shortened to seven weeks with only 10 games on the schedule instead of the usual 15. The Demons had to jump directly into league play without any non-league warmups to get used to new players in new places. For DHS, the opener was a scoreless tie with Fruita Monument before a 1-0 loss to Montrose in a game in which DHS head coach Aaron Champenoy and the players felt they were the better team the whole match.
DHS proved it four days later with a 5-1 home win against the same Montrose side. But another 1-1 tie with Fruita Monument on April 6 made it tough for the Demons to get back into league championship contention without some help, which never came.
Ranked outside the top 16 in the CHSAA Ratings Percentage Index, the Demons will now miss the state tournament.
“I’m gutted for the guys,” Champenoy said. “We wanted to finish the right way at home and prove to everybody else we are the best team in the league. And I can honestly say, without a doubt, we did that. Unfortunately, we are one point short of that. The guys have scored 29 goals and allowed only three in league this year. That’s pretty crazy.”
Friday’s match was a proper sendoff to the season, though. Frontella chased down a beautiful through ball pass from a teammate on a Demons counter attack off a Grand Junction corner kick. Frontella would be first to the ball, as the Grand Junction goalkeeper raced off his line and tried to slide and snatch it away. He would be called for a penalty after sliding into Frontella after the Demon had fired a shot into his midsection, sending Frontella to the spot for a penalty kick. Frontella calmly placed a shot in the lower left corner of the goal to make it 1-0 Demons.
“That felt so nice. I won’t lie, that was great,” Frontella said. “I think we came out here today from the start proving we were the better team. Everybody on the field worked so hard, so I was super stoked to put one away for the guys.”
Only minutes later, Frontella would get a chance to take a long-range free kick. He played in a perfect ball that found the head of Sam Carozza, and the junior expertly played his header to the far post for a goal that the Tigers’ keeper had no chance of stopping.
“Seeing Sam put that ball in, that was such a good header. Pretty unreal,” Frontella said.
With a 2-0 lead at halftime, DHS kept up the pressure in the second half. Ryan Bell, another junior, would score a brilliant goal with his left foot, as he swiped his leg across his body to finish in the bottom right corner of the goal early in the second half.
In the 60th minute, DHS would score once more, as junior David Smagacz played a header to himself past the Grand Junction defense and then tapped the ball into the back of the net to make it 4-0.
The Demons continued to apply pressure and look for another goal but narrowly missed a few more chances.
“We controlled the game and had quite a few chances, and I don’t think we let them have one real chance on frame all game,” Champenoy said.
Frontella will enter Saturday’s season finale at Class 3A Pagosa Springs sitting third in Durango’s all-time scoring with 80 points. He is three points behind former teammate Leland Heinicke for second. It has been a brilliant career for the senior who transferred to Durango High from a club team in Arizona as a junior and only played two seasons in a Demons jersey. He will continue his career at Colorado Mesa University.
“These guys have meant the world to me and welcomed me in when I came in. It made it so much easier for me,” Frontella said. “It’s been incredible to be the guy getting to score all the goals and run forward and get all the applause. But it wouldn’t happen without every other guy on the field. When I score, it’s a nice feeling, but it’s everyone else’s, too.”