Ridgway is celebrating, thanks to the Ridgway High School boys soccer team.
The Demons, in a state championship run that will be recounted for generations to come, won the school’s first state soccer title in Commerce City a week ago with a dramatic victory in the Class 2A final.
The Ridgway boys, led by longtime head coach Jon Kornbluh, used a scintillating late goal from senior Robert Beserra to defeat Dawson School of Lafayette 2-1 in the championship at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park — home of the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer.
But the Denver-area soccer venue looked more like a Ridgway homecoming match, as hundreds of Demons fans trekked to the Front Range to cheer and witness the school’s first state title in any sport since 1995.
“We’ve been getting a lot of love,” Kornbluh said this week after the Demons returned home to a hero’s welcome complete with a rousing police and fire department escort.
“It’s really just a story about these boys, and me, starting years and years and years ago,” said Kornbluh, who has worked with the Ridgway soccer players for 10 years
The Demons, who shook off a mid-season malaise with a dynamic streak of playoff victories, relied on their championship formula of steady, stubborn defense and opportunistic goals from Beserra.
The game-winning goal, with just 37 seconds to play in regulation, likely will be revered in Ridgway history much like the 73-game winning streak and back-to-back state championships by the Steve Hill-coached boys basketball team of the mid-1990s.
With the score tied 1-1 and seconds ticking away, Ridgway goalie Kaden Forrest boomed a kick well past midfield toward a streaking Beserra.
The all-state senior, the leading scorer in Colorado prep soccer, sprinted for the ball. Charging toward an imminent collision, Beserra headed the ball past the defensive sweeper and over the head of the rapidly closing goalkeeper.
The ball, in a slow-motion spin, rolled into the back of the net to trigger an unprecedented Ridgway soccer celebration.
“My keeper punted it like three-quarters of the way down the field,” Beserra told CHSAAnow .com after the match. “I was like, ‘This is my chance.’ I went up for it, and I capitalized. It was a proud moment.”
Beserra, who had given Ridgway a 1-0 led early in the match, finished with both goals and a staggering total of 41 on the season.
“It was a courageous play,” Kornbluh told CHSAAnow. “He’s looking to get hammered by that goalie. Robert is the total package. He’s got courage, intensity, skill and a huge heart.”
Kornbluh and Beserra both credited a well-rounded team effort in the championship match — the same teamwork that captured a state title for a team that entered the 12-team playoffs as the No. 10 seed.
Ridgway, the smallest school in the 2A playoff field, opened the postseason with a 5-1 road win over No. 7 seed Lotus School for Excellence of Aurora.
The Demons, in another road match, dispatched league rival and defending state champion Crested Butte 3-1, before knocking out No. 3 seed Fountain Valley 5-1 in the state semifinals in Englewood.
On the road again a week later, the Ridgway boys beat perennial power Dawson School to claim the title with a 12-3-3 overall record.
Dawson (12-4-2) had advanced in the playoffs with a semifinal win over Denver Christian after edging Telluride in the state quarterfinals. Telluride had reached the state final a year ago.
“They really seized the moment,” Kornbluh said in his interview with CHSAAnow. “It wasn’t too big for us. Everyone talks about how big the moment is. At the end, I just kept talking about ‘No, this is about your first touch. This is about defensive intensity. This is about playing clinical soccer.’”
A season-long focus on possession, movement and passing paid dividends, Kornbluh said. The Dawson Mustangs ended the season 12-4-2.
Ridgway’s Christian Lindler nearly netted the game-winner late in the second half, but the shot drifted wide right.
“Kaden (Forrest) came up really big,” Beserra said. “Our defense has been playing good all playoffs … playing good when we needed it.”
Beserra and fellow senior captain Collin Kendall cited the playoff win over Crested Butte as the key to the Demons’ late surge.
“It was definitely that last Crested Butte game,” Beserra said. “Once we beat Crested Butte, then our confidence rose. It was a psychological thing.”
Kendall, who directed the Ridgway defense, said the win over Crested Butte took a burden off the Demons.
“We saw what our potential is. That propelled us to play the best soccer we’ve played all year,” said Kendall, the son of Barb Lockman and Max Kendall.
Beserra, who played club soccer with the elite Fire FC in Grand Junction, said the development of the entire roster was pivotal this season.
He and Kendall both credited their coach with the team’s success.
“He’s (Kornbluh) been our coach for 10 years now,” Kendall said. “He’s always been super-supportive. He’s constantly thinking about how we can get better.”
Beserra, who is being recruited by Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction and California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, agreed.
“He’s (coach Jon Kornbluh) made me who the player I am today. Big kudos to him,” said Beserra, the son of Dina and Anthony Beserra.
Kornbluh coached soccer in Telluride 25 years ago before the family moved to Ridgway. Beserra, too, started his soccer journey in Telluride.
“I started playing soccer in Telluride. I lived in Telluride for like eight years,” Beserra said. “Then I moved (to Ridgway). … I’m speechless. I never thought this day would ever come.”