With his team trailing 2-0 late in the first half of a home game against Telluride on Oct. 14, Montezuma-Cortez High School soccer coach Bobby Sitton was issued a red card after arguing with officials over a disputed call.
Incensed by the ejection, Sitton took 10 steps toward the parking lot, briefly returning to his bench to encourage his players, and then left the playing area and watched the remainder of the contest from the far sideline.
Although the first-year head coach’s words could not be heard by spectators, his message seemingly made an impact as the Panthers delivered two goals during a gritty second-half performance to force a 2-2 tie.
“Today, we had one of our better executed games from start to finish,” Sitton said. “We’ve had some good practices, and (our team) just keeps growing.”
Among the players who led Panthers’ charge was senior Kolby Waltman, who moved from the midfield to forward at the start of the second half and instantly provided a spark.
Showcasing a level of confidence born of four years on the pitch, Waltman dribbled along the left end line and into the box in the 57th minute before drawing a foul and converting the ensuing penalty kick to give the Panthers their first goal of the game.
“I just tried to get a play in to goal and (the defender) fouled me,” Waltman said. “You just have to step up and be confident and put it in the back of the net.”
After M-CHS narrowly avoided disaster 4 minutes after Waltman’s goal when Telluride’s Jackson Tharp banged a long shot off the cross bar and over the net, the Panthers tied the game when Jelson Yanez intercepted a pass deep in Telluride territory and drew a pair of defenders to his side of the field.
Yanez then sent a perfect crossing pass to junior Michael Diaz, who fired a perfect shot over the head of Telluride’s fast-charging goalie to tie the game, 2-2, in the game’s 65th minute.
“I just got a pretty good pass, and I sent it right over the goalie,” Diaz said. “I saw (the goalie) coming, and I tried to just kick it over his head.”
With the game hanging in the balance, the Panthers and the Miners battled to win a contest that was defined by physicality and resulted in seven yellow cards being awarded.
Although M-CHS nearly walked away with the victory when Alden Adams fired a curving shot off Telluride’s goalie during the first overtime period, a Panthers’ victory was not to be and the two teams settled for a tie.
Asked what allowed his team to stand toe-to-toe with the fourth-best team in the Intermountain League. Kailen Carlson credited communication between his team’s players.
“We were communicating, and that was the big key,” Carlson said. “We also did a great job of winning the fifty-fifty balls.”
Clearly elated by his team’s performance, Sitton crossed the field shortly after the game’s final whistle and delivered an enthusiastic speech to his players before delivering a stern rebuke of the officials during a postgame interview.
“The officiating was horrible,” said Sitton, describing the play that led to his red card. “My kids were getting chippy, and I turned to them and said, ‘I don’t care what kind of joke this (officiating) is, I’m going to take care of it,’ and the official gave me a red card. For their incompetence and poor officiating, I was penalized.”
Hoping to build on their first tie of the season, M-CHS (0-11-1) will next take on Pagosa Springs (3-10-1) at home on Oct. 17.