Freshman Hallie Widner scored twice, and freshman Maddy Emerick scored her first collegiate goal, the game-winner in the 40th minute, to help Montana post a 3-1 victory over Idaho State Sunday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
The Grizzlies (6-5-0, 2-0-0 BSC) won for the third time in four matches and wrapped up an unbeaten start to the first of six weekends of Big Sky Conference games. Idaho and Southern Utah also went 2-0 this weekend to kick off their league schedules.
“It’s a long season, so we knew going into this weekend that we weren’t going to win or lose anything,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus. “This puts us in a nice position, but it’s early. There are a lot of games to go.”
Coachspeak aside, the Grizzlies are off to a 2-0 start in league for the first time since 2003, and they won twice this weekend in different ways.
After Friday’s grinder, a 1-0 victory over Weber State, Montana was dynamic in the final third Sunday and needed to be against the Big Sky’s most dangerous offensive team. Though maybe that title needs a new home.
Widner opened the scoring in the eighth minute, and after Idaho State (4-5-0, 1-1-0 BSC) tied it in the 18th minute on a Montana defensive miscue, Emerick scored the game-winner late in the first half.
Redshirt sophomore Savannah Witt beat her defender down the left side of the box. When she reached the goal line, she passed back to Emerick, who went far post for her first goal as a Grizzly.
“The big thing for us today was that we came out with really good focus and energy right from the start,” said Plakorus. “We played hard on Friday, but we were just a little bit off in our movement and ability to keep the ball.
“Today we were much better in those areas. We kept the ball, and our movement off the ball was very good. We created some very good chances and were dangerous. We just did a good job being in the right places when the crosses came over.”
Widner gave Montana some breathing room when she scored the prettiest goal of the day in the 77th minute. Senior Chloe Torres fed Widner on the left side, and the freshman with the magical feet first schooled her defender, then beat ISU keeper Sheirdan Hapsic inside the far post.
It gave Widner four goals in Montana’s last four matches. Her five goals for the season lead the team.
“The third goal Hallie put in was just a great individual effort, just a fantastic placement of a shot,” said Plakorus. “She’s just gotten better and better as the season’s gone on and as she’s adjusted to the college game.”
The Bengals’ lone goal evened the match at 1-1 early in the first half. A Griz defender attempted to pass back to sophomore goalkeeper Kailey Norman. It was mishit, and Amanda Ellsworth picked up the loose ball and beat Norman for her Big Sky-leading eighth goal of the season.
It was the only goal Norman would allow against a team averaging more than two goals per game for the season and with the Big Sky’s top two point producers in Ellsworth and freshman Maria Sanchez.
Idaho State took eight corner kicks, five more than Montana, and matched the Grizzlies with eight shots on goal. Norman was rarely without a Bengal more than an arm’s length away and finished with seven saves.
“I was very pleased with how we defended, because they are a very dangerous team going forward. For us to be able to keep them at bay and limit their opportunities was a really good job by us,” said Plakorus.
“Kailey did everything she needed to do. She was very good off the line, she was very strong in traffic, and her hands were solid. There was somebody right up on her every play, and she did a very good job focusing on the ball. I thought she was spot-on today.”
Montana will face its first Big Sky road matches next weekend when the Grizzlies play at Sacramento State (5-6-0, 0-2-0 BSC) on Friday and Portland State (3-4-3, 0-1-1 BSC) on Sunday.
In Big Sky play Sunday afternoon, all five home teams won. Eastern Washington topped Weber State 5-1, Southern Utah beat Portland State 2-0 to hand the Vikings their first regular-season league loss since the 2012 season, Idaho defeated North Dakota 1-0, and Northern Arizona edged Sacramento State 1-0.