Telluride junior Baen Tougher (11) attempts to zip a pass out of a Crested Butte sideline trap during the teams' regular-season finale Saturday at Judy Long Memorial Field. Tougher scored the Miners' only goal in a 2-1 defeat. (Photo by Joel Priest/Telluride Daily Planet)

Not necessarily a fan of the hard foul flooring one of his men upon Judy Long Memorial Field Saturday afternoon, head coach Ramon Rodriguez was essentially ecstatic about how the Miners unionized for their teammate — a brawl fortunately never materialized — and turned adversity into advantage.

Trailing Intermountain League rival Crested Butte Community School 1-0 at the time of the near-rumble, a reinvigorated, refocused Telluride rallied and soon equalized, courtesy unassisted junior Baen Tougher, before the visiting Titans practically stole a 2-1 victory moments before regulation time expired.

“Yep,” CBCS head coach Than Acuff concurred. “As soon as we scored the game-winner, the ref blew the final whistle. It was a cross from Jacob Bernholtz to Jamis Matlock at the top of the 18, and Jamis tucked it into the bottom corner.”

“Tying them and then losing in the last 10 seconds was a good confidence-builder for us,” said Rodriguez. “To know we can hang with one of the best teams in the state, and sometimes even look like we’re the best team in the state.”

Wrapping up regular-season work standing 8-6 overall, and a runner-up 6-2 in the IML, THS will have another chance to make their case — as the No. 11 seed in the 16-team 2022 CHSAA Class 2A State Tournament. And as luck would have it, Telluride will first face Lotus School for Excellence — Crested Butte’s victim in last season’s state championship played at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s Weidner Field.

Kickoff against the Meteors (11-4, 6-3 3A/2A Confluence), boasting five wins in their last six outings, is presently set for noon Friday at Colorado Springs’ Thomas MacLaren School. Seeded third and entering the postseason having won two straight since a 2-1 non-league loss Oct. 8 in Aurora to Lotus, the quadrant-hosting Highlanders (13-2) will then battle 14-seed Mile High Academy (8-5) out of Denver at 3 p.m. The winners will then go head-to-head on Saturday at 2 p.m.

“They are a good team,” Rodriguez said, of LSFE, “but the best part is that we get to talk to Than … and he’ll kind of fill us in a little bit. But at this point all the teams are pretty decent, you know? There’s no doubt that they’re going to be a force. We’re just hoping we can put our stuff together after that good game against Crested Butte.”

Getting a preview of the playoffs against none other than the reigning champs, THS fell behind the Titans (12-3, 8-0 IML) in the 19th minute when Matlock threaded a counterstrike through ball ahead to Bernholtz, who managed to beat Miner goalie Jay Ellison — who otherwise was without blemish before halftime, despite the guests out-shooting Telluride 12-4 (unofficially) overall, with a 9-3 shots-on-goal edge.

And to be fair, the Miners — who’d crushed Caprock Academy 9-nil in Grand Junction the previous afternoon — would probably have netted three goals in response before intermission had it not been for CBCS keeper Joseph Sudderth, who leapt and safely deflected over his crossbar junior Alain Montano’s 22nd-minute free kick from midfield, senior Taylor Holmes’ 29th-minute long-range rocket, and Montano’s 33rd-minute free kick from distance.

“We played a lot of good teams to start off this year — Denver Christian, Loveland (Classical), we got to see Thomas MacLaren and stuff like that — so we’re definitely going to look at this as another ‘season,’” said Rodriguez, whose crew also clashed with Vail Mountain, No. 1 in the last regular-season Class 2A rankings. “But we’ll go into this new season stronger than how we finished.

“We’re going to try to work on our quickness,” he continued, “and move the ball around faster, quit trying to dribble so much, and just come together as a unit—hopefully put it all together.”

Elevated two spots from sixth to fourth in the aforementioned poll (released Monday — the same day as the tourney bracket), CBCS, despite clinching the IML title and receiving the 5-seed, will travel all the way to Loveland Classical for a 4 p.m. first-rounder on the Friday against 12-seed Highlands Ranch SkyView Academy (10-4). Seeded fourth, LC (13-2) will first host 13-seed Denver Manual (7-8) at 2 p.m., with the surviving sides squaring off at 1 p.m. the next afternoon.

Also representing the Intermountain will be Ridgway, though the Demons (7-5, 4-4 IML) received the No. 16 seed and will visit top-seeded Vail Mountain (10-4-1) on Friday for a 4 p.m. start. The victor will then battle either 8-seed Fort Collins Heritage Christian (11-4) or 9-seed Leadville Lake County (13-2), scheduled to play first at 1:30 p.m.

“There’s always a sleeper in there, you know, that kind of pushes through. Ridgway, when they won it, they were a number-11 (a 10, actually), I think, and we were a low (No. 6) seed when we went that first year against Crested Butte — so it’s hard to tell,” said Rodriguez, referencing the 2019 and ’18 2A Championship matches, respectively. “I know how good we are, right? But it’s up in the air at this point; anybody can win it, for sure. I just hope we show up and do our best.

“And if we figure some things out, take everything we did in the season and put it together, then there’s nary a doubt.”