GREELEY, Colo. – The Montana soccer team is one point away from clinching a spot in next month's conference tournament following a double-overtime draw at Northern Colorado on Friday night. The Grizzlies were once again the dominant team, out-shooting the Bears, 16-7, but both defenses were able to keep their opponents off the board for 110 minutes.
"I thought we played really well tonight," head coach Mark Plakorus said. "We created a bunch of opportunities, and I thought our ball movement was great and our defending was great. I'm really proud of our team."
For the Grizzlies, it was their seventh shutout of the season, including their fourth during conference play. They have now allowed just 12 goals in 18 games this season (0.67 per game), a figure which leads the Big Sky and ranks among the top 12 percent of all teams nationally.
"Defense is a whole team effort," Plakorus said. "A lot of people don't realize this, but it starts with our forwards making it difficult on teams, along with the midfielders. Then you have the back line. They're well versed and stay disciplined."
Redshirt freshman Claire Howard made two saves in goal, in addition to solid defensive play on several throw-ins and a pair of free kicks within three minutes of each other late in the second period.
"It's really difficult to get a ball past Claire," Plakorus said. "She has an instinct and makes dangerous looks seem average because she knows where to be and how aggressive to be."
As has been the case throughout the conference season, the Grizzlies controlled the tempo and had more looks – and more dangerous looks – than their opponent. In eight conference games, Montana has been out-shot just once (17-16 to Sacramento State), and is out-shooting its conference foes 143-65.
It was much of the same on Friday, as Montana more than doubled Northern Colorado's shots and had eight on frame, compared to two for the Bears.
Junior Hallie Widner had a career-most seven shots, including five during the final 30 minutes of the game. Late in the second overtime, she had a left-footed turnaround shot that was handled by the Bears' goalkeeper. The midfielder also had two looks in the first overtime, and another in the second half that went wide left.
"Hallie played really, really great tonight," Plakorus said. "They were very physical with her and she dealt with it well. She was very unlucky to not have a goal tonight."
The first half was all Montana, as the Griz defense held UNC without a shot for more than 40 minutes. During that span, Montana took six shots. Three were on frame, including a one-on-one opportunity by Alexa Coyle inside the box.
The Bears increased their intensity early on in the first overtime, but the Grizzlies quickly settled in and evened out the play, taking more shots and earning back-to-back corner kicks with 90 seconds remaining.
Howard, Janessa Fowler and Taryn Miller played all 110 minutes for the Grizzlies. Following Widner's seven shots, Charlene Burger, Ashlee Pedersen and McKenzie Warren had two shots apiece.
The Grizzlies now return home to close out the regular season with matches against North Dakota (Sunday at 2 p.m.) and Portland State (Friday, Oct. 27). Montana is unbeaten at home this season (5-0-1), and a result in either of those matches would secure a Big Sky Conference Tournament berth; the Grizzlies are currently in third place and could finish as high as the No. 2 seed. UNC remains a single point behind the Griz.
Earlier on Friday, Eastern Washington clinched the regular-season title and home-field advantage, meaning the tournament will be held in Cheney, Wash., Nov. 1-5.
"It's big in this conference to pick up points on the road," Plakorus said. "I thought a lot of the teams we've played on the road have been the more consistent teams in the conference, so to get points has been very good for us.
"Now we come home and have to get rested to play a North Dakota team that just got another win and is playing with a lot of confidence."