MISSOULA, Mont. – Beginning the toughest portion of its conference season, the Montana Grizzlies rallied on Sunday to earn a 2-1 overtime victory over Northern Arizona. Montana trailed for the majority of the match to an NAU squad that entered the weekend leading the Big Sky Conference, but tied the game in the 79th minute before winning it in overtime.
"Once again, our team was the big thing today," head coach Mark Plakorus said. "For the second game in a row, how we played as an entire team was the key to the win. They played incredibly hard for each other, they communicated, they solved problems, they were composed. Even when we got down, we didn't panic; we just kept playing and stayed focused. I was really proud of them."
Despite out-playing NAU on paper – Montana out-shot the Lumberjacks, 20-7, 8-1 on frame, and had 15 corner kicks – the Grizzlies trailed for the majority of the match. All-Big Sky forward Adrian Nixt scored in the 21st minute to put her team on top, and despite having several opportunities, it wasn't until the 79th minute, on a penalty kick, that Janessa Fowler and the Grizzlies tied the game.
Ironically, it was another penalty kick moments earlier that shifted the momentum. Already trailing 1-0, the Grizzlies were called for a foul in the box, giving Madeline Waszak a free shot and the chance to put her team up by two goals.
Her shot, though, was high, giving some life to Montana. The Grizzlies closed the final 21 minutes by out-shooting the Lumberjacks, 7-1, including Fowler's equalizer in the 79th minute.
"Jan wanted it obviously," Plakorus said. "She stepped up to it and was very confident. She struck the ball well and got us back into the game."
Her shot was in the lower left corner of the net, and although NAU's goalkeeper Taryn Benham dove in that direction, Fowler's placement was out of Benham's reach.
NAU has two shot attempts and a corner kick in the brief overtime period, but it felt as though Montana controlled the ball for the majority of the six-minute period – something the team did for the majority of the match.
"Once we tied it, I think it took a lot of pressure off of us," Plakorus said. "Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves, but we kept attacking and attacking."
In the 96th minute, Alexa Coyle had a shot that was blocked, which set up a corner kick that almost ended the match, but Taylor Hansen's shot from the top of the box went wide left.
Just seconds later, though, Montana had the ball in NAU territory once again, with Hansen in open space. She passed the ball off to Coyle, who tried to work her way around a defender and from the end line placed a beautiful cross to Otteson, who headed it in.
"Lex (Alexa Coyle) she worked hard to get to that and played it perfectly," Otteson said. "I couldn't believe it went in; all of my headers lately have been going straight to the keeper. I looked up and it was a great feeling. Our team really pushed hard to come back and win that. We finished strong instead of caving."
It was the junior from Washington's sixth career goal and the first of the season.
"Lex is a big, strong, powerful forward," Plakorus said of the game-winning play. "She sealed the player well and turned her well and hit a great ball in. One of the best things Ellie does is finish with her head. She has a knack for it and her timing is great, her positioning is great. I was really happy for her because she's been working very hard."
Otteson led Montana with six shots (four on goal), followed by Taryn Miller (four) and Hallie Widner (three). The Grizzlies had 15 corner kicks in the match, their highest total since 2004.
After suffering its first conference defeat last weekend at Idaho State, the Grizzlies have rebounded nicely with a draw at Weber State before back-to-back home wins over Sacramento State and Northern Arizona. Montana is 5-0-1 this season at South Campus Stadium.
The team's next three matches, though, will be on the road against top-level competition. The stretch begins Friday at Idaho, a team that is struggling to begin conference play but was picked to finish fourth in the preseason standings and earned a first-place vote. That match will be followed up by a trip next Sunday to preseason favorite and league-leading Eastern Washington. Montana's regular-season road finale will be at Northern Colorado, currently one point behind UM in the standings.
"This was an important result for us," Plakorus said. "To be able to battle back says a lot about the character of this team and how well they work together."