AURORA | AJ Watters is a proud member of Grandview’s “No Fly Zone” defense, but the Wolves senior likes to score goals, too.
His second goal of the 2017 season thus far proved much bigger than the first, which came in a six-goal Centennial League rout of Mullen.
Watters’ second score came Saturday night and it was absolutely massive, as he put in a rebound for the only goal of the game in fifth-seeded Grandview’s 1-0 Class 5A boys soccer state quarterfinal victory over 13th-seeded Fairview at Legacy Stadium.
“These games just get harder and harder every time,” Grandview coach Brian Wood said. “The boys played well, they did what we asked them to do and we defended the way we defend, so that was the key.”
The Wolves moved into the 5A semifinals for the first time since the 2007 season that saw them make it to the 5A final before losing to Smoky Hill. To reach another championship game, Grandview (16-2) must beat top-seeded Denver East (17-1) at 5 p.m. Wednesday at EchoPark Stadium in Parker.
Aurora’s other quarterfinalist, sixth-seeded Hinkley, wasn’t able to join the Wolves in the semifinals as the Thunderbirds fell 4-1 on the road to No. 3 Fort Collins, which will meet No. 7 Broomfield in the other semifinal.
Defense has a lot to do with the Wolves’ rise this season, as the “No Fly Zone” has allowed just eight goals in 18 games and none in an entire month stretching back to a 2-1 game against Eaglecrest on Oct. 5, a span of seven games.
Grandview put the shackles on a Fairview team that just came off an upset win over fourth-seeded and defending state champion Boulder in the second round.
Offensively, the Wolves tried to go at the Knights’ outside backs with its speed on the perimeter in plays such as senior midfielder Erik Robinson.
But it took the contributions of a defender to get them on the board. Wolves’ defenders like to crash the opposing net on set pieces and that’s just how Watters got the deciding goal to break a scoreless deadlock in the 52nd minute.
A corner kick serve that the Knights’ keeper was unable to secure came free in the middle to Watters, who finished the rebound to ignite a huge celebration.
“I’m playing defense, so I rarely get the opportunity to score, especially in a time like this,” Watters said. “I just saw the cross coming in, the keeper hit it out and it came to me and I just hit it in.
“I couldn’t describe what happened next, it was just crazy.”
It was the type of scenario Wood and his coaching staff — including former Eaglecrest head coach Greg Watts — talked to the team about after a scoreless opening half.
“At halftime, we talked about doing the exact thing that AJ did,” Wood said. “We love it when they do what we ask them to do.”
Grandview’s defense played well in the air as Fairview got some prime free kick chances in the closing minutes and senior keeper Eddie St. Martin saved all six shots he saw.
The Wolves moved a victory away from playing for a state championship for the first time since that 2007 season.
Did they think they’d be there at the start?
“Honestly, no, but look at that,” Robinson said, waving at his teammates celebrating.
“We’re going all the way.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(5) GRANDVIEW 1, (13) FAIRVIEW 0
Score by halves:
Fairview 0 0 — 0
Grandview 0 1 — 1
Grandview — AJ Watters, 52nd minute
Grandview saves: Eddie St. Martin (6 shots on goal-6 saves)