Montana gave up two early goals to Purdue and trailed 3-0 at the half, and the slow start was too much for the Grizzlies to overcome Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
Despite improved play in the second half, Montana lost 3-1 to drop to 3-3-1 on the season. The Boilermakers improved to 5-1-0.
Five days after knocking off one team from the Big Ten -- Montana defeated Iowa 1-0 at South Campus Stadium on Sunday -- the Grizzlies were unable to make it two in a row, and they were largely responsible for their own undoing.
Purdue put Montana on its heels from the start and scored twice before the match was 10 minutes old. Another goal in the 35th minute made it 3-0.
“The first half was pretty simple. I saw one team that was working and making things happen, and we were very reactive and didn’t have the right intensity and work ethic to match them,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus.
“It wasn’t anything tactical. They attacked us the way we thought they were going to attack us. We just didn’t do the things we needed to do, work ethic-wise, to give ourselves a chance to compete with them.”
Maddy Williams made it 1-0 in the sixth minute on her sixth goal of the year when she redirected a cross. Hannah Leinert, the best player on the field all match, scored in the 10th and 35th minutes, the first on an attempted cross that went in off the far post, the second on a redirect inside the left post.
Purdue had an 8-3 advantage in shots in the first half, but in terms of time of possession and quality of opportunities, it played out like the Grizzlies were shorthanded and the Boilermakers were on a 45-minute power play.
At halftime, Plakorus made something akin to a sandlot move. He scrapped formality and put 11 players on the field who he thought would best pick up his team’s level of play. That put sophomore Ashlee Pedersen, a superbly athletic defender, up front. The move helped change the entire feel of the match.
After giving Purdue goalkeeper Erika Yohn the first half off, Montana made her work to pick up her fifth victory of the season. The Grizzlies took nine of the first 10 shots to open the second half.
“I just put 11 players on the field I thought would give us the best chance to drive up our work ethic. We finally started working and fighting, and when you do that, you give yourself a chance to compete. When we compete hard like that, you start to see our talent and ability,” Plakorus said.
“We competed in the second half the way we’re capable of, but by the time we did that we were down three goals, and that’s a tough hole to get out of.”
It’s rare in an 11-aside sport like soccer that one player picks up the spirit of an entire team, but Pedersen pulled it off in the second half. Montana finally had someone willing to chase down balls, challenge the Boilermakers on their end of the field and put pressure on Yohn.
“I just tried to bring some energy,” said Pedersen, who hadn’t played in an attacking position since her freshman year of high school. It hardly showed. “I just like to run. I think that’s why Mark put me up there. We just needed some more pace and to move the ball more.
“It was a whole team thing. I got a lot of through balls, and my teammates worked with me when I got double-teamed. When we had some energy, we started playing as a team more.”
Pedersen created Montana’s first opportunity, then scored the team’s opening goal.
She fired a shot from the right side that was saved by Yohn, and the rebound went across the box to freshman Dani Morris. Her shot was batted down by a Purdue defender, which gave Montana a penalty kick.
Mackenzie Akins’ penalty shot in the 56th minute went off the right post, and -- who else? -- Pedersen was there to punch it in for her first career goal.
“That was really great on Ashlee’s part,” said Plakorus. “Her work ethic today was magnificent. The heart she showed in the second half is what got us going.”
Freshman Jacey Delaney entered the match shortly after Pedersen’s goal and put a pair of shots on goal, and Akins’ work in the midfield helped tilt the field in Montana’s favor for most of the second half.
But the uprising came too late. Two goals down would be as close as Montana would get.
“We have to compete with everything we have day in and day out,” said Plakorus. “When we don’t compete hard, we’re a very average team at best.”
Montana will face Creighton (4-3-0) on Sunday at 2 p.m. at South Campus Stadium. The Bluejays lost 3-2 to Seattle Friday afternoon. Seattle (4-2-0) will play Purdue at 11 a.m.