In addition to her size, strength and skills, freshman forward Dani Morris was recruited to Montana because Griz coach Mark Plakorus knows a left-footed attacker comes with some special benefits. Not the least of which is the element of surprise.
Overplayed to the wrong side by an unsuspecting Indiana State defender, Morris’s goal in the 107th minute, her second of the match, gave the Grizzlies a 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Sycamores Sunday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
Montana built a 3-0 advantage early in the second half, but Indiana State scored three goals in less than 13 minutes to even the score and turn a runaway victory into a tense game that extended into the second overtime before Morris ended it.
Posted up eight yards off the end line, Morris took a throw-in from junior Mary Gintz. When her defender took away Morris’s ability to spin to her left, the go-to move for a right-footed player, Morris gladly spun toward the end line and sent a left-footed shot over ISU’s keeper and inside the far post.
“I was pretty happy she gave me that turn. After I made my move, I saw the keeper step toward me and that we had girls on the back post, so I just wanted to get the ball across and see what happens,” said Morris.
“It was a tough angle, but there were only a few minutes left, so I knew we needed to score. I’m thankful it worked out.”
The late goal prevented what would have been Montana’s second draw of the weekend. But while Friday’s 0-0 tie with Wyoming felt encouraging, little would have felt good about a tie on Sunday. Not after holding a 3-0 advantage at home against a team that lost 3-1 to Idaho on Friday.
“All in all it’s not how I had hoped the day would go, but it’s part of the learning process for a young team. The good thing is we battled out of it. We didn’t quit. We grabbed back hold of the game and got the goal to get the win,” said Plakorus.
“To give up a three-goal lead, most of the time teams either tie or lose. To get the fourth goal and come out with the win was a nice thing.”
Not only was Montana young across its starting lineup -- the Grizzlies started eight underclassmen, including three true freshmen -- it also fielded plenty of inexperience.
With junior Kailey Norman sidelined after taking a ball to the head Friday against the Cowgirls, redshirt sophomore Maddie Vincent got her first career start in goal. Freshman outside back Mallory Sullivan and redshirt junior midfielder Emily Kardash also got their first career starts.
It didn’t show, at least on the scoreboard through the match’s first 50 minutes.
Montana went up 1-0 in the 18th minute when Gintz scored her first career goal. Gintz, who was pressing forward from her outside back position, got the ball on the right side, and when she hit the end line, she fired at the wall of players in front of goal. It went in off an Indiana State player.
“We tell our kids all the time that if they get around that last defender, attack the end line. If no one comes to you, shoot it. If someone comes to you, just blast it across the goal as hard as you can,” said Plakorus. “Either one of our players is going to hit it in or it’s going to hit off one of their players.”
The theme of outside backs scoring their first career goal was repeated in the 36th minute when sophomore Chanelle Pederson took a pass in the center of the field from sophomore Maddy Emerick and sent a rocket from 18 yards out that beat keeper Brittany San Roman inside the right post.
“In the system we play, we expect our outside backs to get involved in the attack,” explained Plakorus. “But for two defenders to get goals? That’s fantastic. It’s great to see players who work so hard be rewarded.”
Redshirt sophomore Aspen Peifer pinged a shot off the crossbar in the 41st minute, and Morris put Montana up 3-0 less than five minutes into the second half when she scored from 12 yards out on the left side after being set up nicely by redshirt sophomore Jamie Simon.
At that point Montana had doubled Indiana State in shots and was seemingly in control, but what the scoreboard was displaying belied what Plakorus had been feeling from the game’s opening minute.
“I thought we came out sluggish. We weren’t as sharp as I was hoping. The goals we scored were solid, but we still weren’t dangerous enough and playing with a lot of discipline,” he said.
“I thought we maybe had that corrected at halftime and then got that goal early in the second half. Then I think we just relaxed too much.”
And the lead vanished quickly. Sydney Lovelace’s goal in the 53rd minute felt at the time like it did little more than ruin another possible shutout. Her goal in the 57th minute made it uncomfortable. Just minutes later the Sycamores had found the equalizer to the disbelief of the 471 in attendance.
Ashley Gibbons put a shot on goal in the 65th minute that was saved by Vincent. But the rebound went to Maddie Orf, and her putback tied the match at 3-3.
Indiana State, which took seven of its 14 shots for the match in that 12-minute, goal-scoring window, suddenly was finding wide-open spaces to work in.
“Credit them for continuing to fight, but part of it was at halftime I wasn’t clear on what I wanted us to do in the midfield,” said Plakorus. “I think I confused them, and that led to (Indiana State) getting some open looks. That was my fault in communicating with the players.
“When they tied it, it was just a matter of trying to grab back hold of the game and getting our feet back under us. We made some changes that slowed the game down a little, and we started being better in our attack and generating some chances.”
Montana may have given up the lead, but instead of being shell-shocked, the Grizzlies outshot the Sycamores 13-2 the rest of the match and had two golden chances to score the game-winner in regulation.
In the 74th minute sophomore Allie Lucas send a laser toward the left side of the goal. San Roman made the save of the weekend, airing out to her right to not just stop the shot but grab and hold the ball -- while horizontal -- to avoid any rebound.
Eight minutes later freshman center back Taryn Miller lofted a ball forward from 35 yards out. San Roman played the Montana attacker and not the ball, and it sailed over her head. Miller’s pass quickly became a shot on goal, and it was headed away by an alert defender just before crossing the goal line.
Montana outshot Indiana State 5-0 in the overtime periods, capped by Morris’s game winner at 106:11.
“It’s still early in the season, and we’re figuring a lot of stuff out,” said redshirt junior defender Tess Brenneman, who played every minute against Wyoming and Indiana State.
“We didn’t let our fight down after letting them score three goals in 12 minutes. Coming back and pulling out a win was a good sign for this team.”
Montana finished with 23-14 advantage in shots, 10 of which were on goal. The Grizzlies put just one shot on goal Friday against the Cowgirls. Simon took a team-high five shots, Morris and junior Carlee Bates took four each.
Vincent, who played the final 65 minutes against Wyoming, made three saves in the first half and two in the second to earn her first collegiate victory.
Lovelace took a game-high six shots for Indiana State.
Montana will play its first road matches of the season next weekend at Nevada (0-0-1) and Utah Valley (1-1-0).
The Wolf Pack played to a 1-1 draw at home Friday night against Gonzaga. The Wolverines lost 6-0 at San Diego State Friday before rebounding with a 2-0 home-field victory over Central Arkansas on Sunday.