CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The Montana soccer team faced a stiff challenge on Sunday, going up against an undefeated Northern Iowa squad that hadn't allowed a goal all season. The task got tougher when UNI scored a first-half goal to put the Panthers up 1-0.
But Montana never gave in, continued to create chances and scored two goals within a two-minute span to beat Northern Iowa, 2-1.
At 6-0 on the season, UNI entered the day as one of four teams – out of 333 NCAA Division I women's soccer programs – to not allow a goal all season. That changed in the 56th minute.
From the left side, freshman Alexa Coyle centered the ball back to fellow freshman Rita Lang, who took a one-timer with her left foot. The shot, taken at the left corner of the six-yard box, hit under the crossbar for a signature goal. It was the first of Lang's career and the first allowed by UNI all season.
Tied at 1-1, the Griz (5-3) weren't done. Just two minutes later, another freshman, Raye Burton, gave her team the lead.
Lang's throw-in was headed by Coyle back to Burton, who sailed a shot into the top-right corner of the net from just outside the box, past a diving goaltender.
Just like that, Montana's deficit evaporated and the Griz were on top.
Freshmen were the center of attention on Sunday, accounting for both goals, both assists and Claire Howard's play in net (three saves). So far this season, six of UM's 10 goals scored have come from freshmen.
The Griz out-shot the Panthers, 12-11, including seven shots on goal to UNI's four. Even in the first half, before the two goals, UM was getting strong looks, taking four shots on goal compared to UNI's three.
UNI came out hot to open the game, taking four shots in the first several minutes of action, with Sydney Hayden connecting to give the Panthers a 1-0 advantage in the ninth minute. From there, the Griz settled in and took the game's next six shots.
Leading 2-1 late in the game, UNI had the ball in UM territory on several occasions, but the Griz defended well to prevent several shots. When UNI did get shots off, Howard was great – including a sequence of three consecutive UNI shots that Howard blocked or saved. The defense also cleared a corner kick with just 2:30 remaining, UNI's last major threat.
The win was big for UM, which was coming off of back-to-back 1-0 losses to Big Ten teams. Prior to that, though, the Griz had won three consecutive contests.
UM will look to carry Sunday's excitement over to the coming weekend, where the team will face two Pac-12 schools. The weekend begins on Friday in Eugene, Ore., to face the Oregon Ducks, before coming home to host a strong Washington State squad on Sunday.