Senior Mackenzie Akins had an assist in the second minute and scored the game-winning goal in the 54th to lead the Montana soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Idaho State Friday afternoon at Davis Field in Pocatello.
The win moves the Grizzlies (6-8-2, 3-3-1 BSC) into sole possession of fourth place in the Big Sky Conference as the end of the league schedule rapidly approaches. The top six teams at season’s end will advance to the Big Sky tournament.
Facing the conference’s only team without a point, Montana took care of business on both ends of the field Friday. The Grizzlies outshot the Bengals (1-14-1, 0-7-0 BSC) 19-10 and limited the Big Sky’s leading scorer to just three shots, only one of which was on goal.
“I was really pleased with how we attacked and played today. We came out sharp right off the bat,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus. “I was really proud of the girls and what they did today. This is not an easy place to come in and get a win.”
The Grizzlies needed less than two minutes to take an early advantage. Akins beat a defender on the right side and sent a cross in behind the back line. Freshman Ellie Otteson stormed in from the left side, brought the ball down and finished at 1:54.
It was Otteson’s third goal of the season and Akins’ 16th career assist, which moves her into fifth place on the Montana career list.
“We did a great job of putting them under pressure right away,” said Plakorus. “We scored a great goal, then the game kind of evened out as the first half went along.
“Then the second half I thought we came out again very strong and got our second goal.”
Eight minutes into the half, Montana cleared away one of Idaho State’s 13 corner kicks, a season high for an opponent, and hit the Bengals with a counterattack.
Freshman Dani Morris took the ball up the left side, saw Akins ahead on the right and played a perfect ball forward. Akins pushed it past a defender and curled her shot inside the far post for her 14th career goal at 53:07. Nine of Akins’ career goals now have been game-winners.
“We were unfortunate to not get a couple more. Two or three times we were in behind with the goalkeeper on the ground. Their defenders made some nice plays on the goal line,” said Plakorus.
Idaho State scored in the 85th minute to cut the lead to 2-1. What was notable about the goal was that Maria Sanchez, who ranks second nationally with 15 goals, was not involved in either the goal or assist. She had either scored or assisted on 18 of the team’s 20 goals this season entering the match.
Sanchez was limited to just three shots, but her work on the offensive end helped create 13 corner kicks for her team, five more than anyone else has taken this season against Montana.
“We gave up a few too many corner kicks, but part of that was Maria,” said Plakorus. “She is one of the best players I’ve ever coached against. She is just fantastic.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t caught alone with her. We always wanted to have someone covering our initial defender on her. We limited her opportunities, but she was able to earn her team some corner kicks, which still makes it dangerous. Overall we did a good job dealing with her.”
Junior goalkeeper Kailey Norman picked up her fifth win of the season and the 18th of her career, the fifth most in program history.
Montana is alone in fourth place in the Big Sky with 10 points. Hovering one point behind are Weber State, Portland State and Sacramento State. Montana plays at Weber State on Sunday, then hosts Portland State and Sacramento State next week at South Campus Stadium.
The Wildcats (7-7-1, 3-3-0 BSC), who won their home matches last week by scores of 4-2 and 4-1, and did not have a match on Friday, will host the Grizzlies Sunday at noon in Ogden.
“The biggest thing we have to do is get the kids recovered,” said Plakorus. “We’ll put our game plan in place tomorrow, then we’ll need to be prepared, focused and ready to go against a team that will be ready for us.
“We need to make sure we come out with our best effort, because they are very good.”