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Idaho outworks Montana

Published: September 23, 2016

At the time, when Kailey Norman took a penalty kick in the 20th minute and pushed it wide left, leaving Montana and Idaho scoreless at South Campus Stadium in the teams’ Big Sky Conference opener on Friday afternoon, it felt like it might be a big moment in a matchup between two supposed contenders.


Turns out a missed penalty kick would be the least of Montana’s concerns.


Idaho, the defending Big Sky champion, answered Norman’s miss with four straight goals, and the Vandals outworked the Grizzlies all over Montana’s home field in an alarmingly one-sided 4-1 victory.


Idaho, which is unbeaten in 13 straight matches against Big Sky opponents, has scored 10 goals on Montana in the teams’ three meetings since last season.


Friday’s outcome, Montana’s first regular-season loss to a league opponent at home since October 2013, led to a litany of firsts: The first time since 2013 giving up four goals to a Big Sky opponent. The first time giving up four goals at home since 2011. And the first time allowing four goals to a league opponent at home since 2010.


It makes the successes of August feel like last season and the Grizzlies feel like a different team than the unit that won at Purdue and Denver, and went toe-to-toe with Washington State just a few short weeks ago.


“This game came down not to the soccer side of things. Today was all about the intangibles in sports,” said sixth-year coach Mark Plakorus.


“Toughness, grit, heart, passion, desire to impact the game, wanting to make things happen, having an attitude of confidence. For some reason we’re just floundering in those areas right now.”


The pregame storylines -- unbeaten streaks of some sort for both programs, along with shared championship dreams -- made for an intriguing matchup, and both teams had golden opportunities to grab a lead in the opening 20 minutes.


Idaho appeared to break through first, putting the ball in the net in the third minute after a wild, loose-ball scramble, but the Vandals were whistled for being offside.


In the 20th minute, a Montana attacker was taken down while charging up the right side of the box. The result was a penalty kick, which Norman, Montana’s senior goalkeeper, jogged up the field to take.


The player who is accustomed to trying to stop penalty kicks was given her first career opportunity to score one. She sent it wide left.


Idaho wasted little time taking advantage. In the 23rd minute Elexis Schlossarek pounced on a loose ball and scored from 20 yards out. Less than four minutes later, with her teammates pressing a Griz midfielder, Kavita Battan swept in and stole a back pass, and beat Norman to make it 2-0.


Neither scoring play could have been scripted in Idaho’s practices this week. Instead they were the residue of work and opportunity, and made true the aphorism that fortune favors the bold.


“Even if that penalty kick puts us up 1-0, I don’t think it changes much,” said Plakorus. “Those intangibles don’t change just because you’re winning.”


The Vandals, who pressured the Grizzlies the entire match, led 2-0 at the half and were just getting started. Olivia Baggerly made it 3-0 in the 63rd minute when she collected a soft clearing attempt by Montana and fired a rocket past Norman.


Three goals, all unassisted, which tells all. Idaho made its own breaks, not off set pieces or a beautiful series of passes. The Vandals just had a will to leave Missoula with a victory and send a message to the rest of the Big Sky: Before any champions are crowned, Idaho will have its say in the matter.


Two minutes after Baggerly’s goal, Emma Eddy made it 4-0 off a set piece. Schlossarek took a free kick from 35 yards out, and Eddy met the pass in front of the goal and one-timed the ball into the net.


Montana made it 4-1 in the 72nd minute when sophomore Taryn Miller rose up and headed in a corner kick from Bates for her first career goal.


“It’s disappointing. I thought we would play much better today. We have to get back to work and figure some things out,” said Plakorus, whose team hosts Idaho State at 1 p.m. on Sunday at South Campus Stadium. The Bengals (3-8-0, 0-1-0 BSC) lost 3-0 at Eastern Washington on Friday.


“We need to get back to the level we know we can play at, because we’re not there right now.”


In other league openers Friday afternoon, Northern Colorado won 2-1 at Weber State and Sacramento State won 2-0 at Southern Utah.

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