CHENEY, Wash. – Despite outshooting Eastern Washington 15-6 and not allowing an Eagle player to score, Montana fell in a battle between the top teams in the Big Sky Conference on Sunday afternoon.
An own goal inside the first minute of the match put the Eagles ahead and the Big Sky leaders played an impressive 90 minutes of defense to keep the Griz off the board. The win increased EWU's lead over Montana in the conference standings to six points.
"We controlled the whole game," head coach Mark Plakorus said. "We were able to do everything we wanted to do, we just didn't put the ball in the net. We had a lot of players play very well and we just need to get back to work on making sure that when we get these opportunities we're being aggressive and putting them in the back of the net."
Montana dominated the first half after the own goal, outshooting EWU 10-1, including a number of chances early to tie the game up. The Grizzlies also had five corners in the first half, but couldn't find the final touch to even the score.
"We had two breakaways that we missed, we had a ball bounce over the goal that we thought was going in, we had close opportunities on crosses, but we just didn't get a goal," Plakorus said. "It was just very frustrating because I thought we played extremely well."
After settling in defensively for much of the first half, EWU finally began to attack the Grizzlies more effectively in the second half. Chloe Williams nearly broke the Big Sky Conference scoring record and with 36 minutes remaining in the match. She found space in the box for a shot that beat Howard, but her shot hit the crossbar.
The Griz had several chances from set pieces and corner kicks down the stretch, but never was able to get one past EWU goalkeeper Emily Busselman. The goalie made seven saves, but only one of them came in the second half, as the Eagles kept the Grizzlies outside of the penalty area for much of the final 45 minutes.
In just about every category but goals Montana had the advantage. The Griz had nine more shots than the Eagles and put seven of them on target compared to just three for EWU. The Griz also had nine corners compared to just one for the Eagles. Montana also held EWU far below its season average of 2.67 goals per conference game.
Janessa Fowler put three shots on target to lead the Griz. Alexa Coyle had four shots, one of which was on frame, and McKenzie Warren had both of her shots saved by Busselman. In the end, it was an unlucky bounce that doomed Montana.
"It was very unfortunate," Plakorus said. "The ball kind of bounced weird on us and we miscleared the ball into our own goal. It was a very unfortunate start, but I thought we didn't hang our heads, we bounced back and really controlled things."
The loss snaps Montana's three-match win streak, but the Grizzlies are still in third place in the conference standings with three games remaining. They will play two of them at home, including the final game of the regular season vs. second-place Portland State. EWU remained unbeaten in league play, improving to 6-0-1.
"Right now, we need to go into Northern Colorado and play well against a very good team," Plakorus said. "It's important because it's the next one and if we can get a result that gets us one step closer to the conference tournament. That's the important thing."