Washington State may have won the match, converting a penalty kick in the final seconds of the first overtime to win 1-0 at South Campus Stadium Friday afternoon, but Montana did not come away without anything to show for its effort.
The Grizzlies (2-2-1), who lost 6-2 at Utah Valley on Sunday in a desultory performance, got some of their mojo back after going toe-to-toe with an unbeaten Cougar team (4-0-0) and playing their best match of the season.
It came just five days after seeing a 2-1 lead at Utah Valley snowball into an ugly defeat.
“This was a completely different team, and I knew it would be,” said Mackenzie Akins, Montana’s lone senior. “We’re a young team that learns a lot each game, so I knew we were going to learn a lot from the whooping we got on Sunday.
“We made a pact with one another that that was never going to happen again.”
It’s only been one match, still, so far, so good. Montana got outshot 18-7 Friday, but Washington State only put five of those shots on goal. The Grizzlies put four of theirs on goal, and the teams were even in corner kicks with two apiece.
The teams went end-to-end in a well-played, entertaining game, trading opportunities, until 12 seconds remained in the first overtime. Griz center back Tess Brenneman and WSU’s Kaitlyn Johnson both went for a bouncing ball, and Johnson ended up on the ground just inside the top of the 18-yard box.
A foul was called, and Kailiana Johnson converted the penalty kick, her first goal of the season. It altered the outcome but not the way Montana’s coach felt about his team’s performance.
“I was extremely proud of the team today,” said Mark Plakorus, whose squad allowed more goals on Sunday than in any of his first 86 matches coaching the Grizzlies.
“The way we competed, the way we played, the way we handled the game. I’m proud of the steps they took and the choices they made in how to play.”
Even in warmups, the visuals did not lie. Washington State was a little bigger, faster and stronger than Montana. Which made the way the Grizzlies competed all the more rewarding.
Montana did not allow a shot through the match’s opening 14 minutes, and the Cougars, who scored eight times in their first three matches, did not put a shot on goal until the 41st.
Nothing was more indicative of the match than a small window of time early in the second half.
On one end, Griz keeper Kailey Norman came up with one of her four saves on a good opportunity by WSU’s Kourtney Guetlein. Forty seconds later, on the other end, Jamie Simon played a sweet ball to Ellie Otteson, whose shot against a charging goalkeeper slid just left of goal.
“We had a game plan going in, and I thought we executed extremely well,” said Plakorus. “I knew we were going to get our chances, so we attacked them and had some pretty good ones. We did a lot of really good things today.”
But with the clock winding down in the first overtime, a foul was called, and Norman, whose four saves were a career high, had little chance of stopping Johnson’s well-executed penalty kick, which ended the match at 99:48.
“Kailey did a great job today,” said Plakorus. “I thought as the game went on she got better and better, and made a couple of really good saves. It was just unfortunate she had to try to stop a penalty kick with the game on the line.”
The task doesn’t get any easier for Montana on Sunday when the Grizzlies host Iowa (4-0-0) at 10:30 a.m. Trailing Utah State 1-0 at the half and mostly getting outplayed, the Hawkeyes put up 15 second-half shots and scored a pair of goals less than two minutes apart to win 2-1 and remain unbeaten.
Sunday’s opportunity also gives Montana, which has played its three best matches of the season on Fridays, a chance to play its first solid match on the back end of a two-game weekend.
“We have to grow so that this type of effort and the choices we make to be great in everything we do, we do that on Sunday,” said Plakorus. “That’s what this team has to learn to do, and I’m expecting them to do just that.”