(Editor’s note: Montana Grizzly athletics release)
MISSOULA — It was just minutes after Mariel Gutierrez scored the game-winning goal in double overtime on Sunday afternoon to give Northern Colorado a 2-1 victory over Montana at South Campus Stadium that Griz coach Chris Citowicki was already eyeing his team’s next potential match against the Bears.
“I want a rematch. The players want a rematch. We want this one back,” he said. “I can’t wait to have another shot at them in (the Big Sky Conference tournament). Hopefully we get it.”
It was an understandable reaction, after Northern Colorado scored in the 88th minute to even the match, then 4:05 into the second overtime to win it, the same formula the Bears used to knock off the Grizzlies last November in the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament.
The stakes weren’t quite as high on Sunday — it was the league opener for both teams, with the Grizzlies and Bears both having eight more Big Sky matches to play — but that didn’t soften the stomach-punch result.
Montana went up 1-0 in the 42nd minute on Kennedy Yost’s first goal of the season, the second of her career, and for most of the second half that felt like it would be enough.
The Bears took 11 shots in the second half and created six corner kicks, but the Grizzlies still led entering the final three minutes of regulation. The finish line was in sight, a 1-0-0 start to league was there for the taking.
Then Northern Colorado’s leading scorers landed a one-two punch that left Montana stunned and walking off its home field with a loss for the third time this season.
With just over two minutes remaining in regulation, Montana goalkeeper Claire Howard, never one to hang out on the end line when there is a play to be made in front of her, found herself near the top of the 18-yard box, going up in the air to corral a loose, bouncing ball.
She was bumped just enough on the play that she couldn’t get clean possession of the ball, and it found its way to UNC’s Maddie Roberts, who had nothing between her and the goal but 15 yards of space and Montana center back Caitlin Rogers, all 5-foot-6 of her, heels on the end line.
On this day a potential hero needed to be just a little bit taller, because for as much as Rogers elevated to get the most out of her 66 inches, Roberts chipped a ball that snuck into the goal between Rogers’ head and the crossbar.
A crowd that was waiting out the final minutes to celebrate a Montana victory fell silent.
“We had the better of the first half, and we talked about it (at halftime),” said Citowicki. “They are a very good team, and they are going to come out to play. And they did.
“They kept chipping away until they got the goal, so credit to them for their second half.”
Gutierrez would score the game-winner in the fifth minute of the second overtime, and it was the same loose-ball situation that allowed Northern Colorado to tie the game in the first place.
Seconds after Rogers appeared to save the day when she stonewalled another Roberts shot on the goal line, an attempted clearing pass was blocked and went up in the air.
Northern Colorado’s Lexi Pulley got there first and headed the ball across the box to Gutierrez, who doesn’t miss in those situations. She buried it from six yards out to take the crowd from stunned to dejected.
“That’s the game of soccer and why they’re a good team,” said Citowicki. “They create those kinds of opportunities and they take them.
“It was hard for us to bounce back after their (game-tying) goal coming so late. And they were on a high.”
It was a match Montana could have led by more than a goal at the half had the Grizzlies capitalized on their fast start.
McKenzie Warren hit the crossbar in the ninth minute, Northern Colorado didn’t record a shot until the 20th, and Montana generated five first-half corner kicks.
But the lead was only 1-0 at the break, the advantage coming off the foot of Yost, who took a free kick in the 42nd minute just outside the 18-yard box.
She ripped one low and hard, and it went straight into the waiting arms of UNC goalkeeper Taylor Washington. But the ball arrived with such pace that it rolled up Washington’s arms, off her shoulder and spun into the goal.
And for the next 45 minutes of the first and second halves, it felt like it would be the winner. But the Bears liked the original so much last November, they decided to produce a sequel: a deficit, a late second-half goal to tie it, the winner coming in double overtime.
Citowicki wasn’t in Cheney last fall to see or feel the effects of that first result, but even he’s ready for the next matchup. Everyone can only hope it comes in Ogden in first week of November.
“It was an even game, end-to-end and entertaining for everybody,” said Citowicki. “There were a lot of good things we can take out of it.
“It happened against Northern Colorado, which is one of the better teams in the conference, so we’re playing the best teams close and tight in a game that could go either way. It’s just annoying to lose.”
Montana (1-6-2, 0-1-0 BSC) will host Big Sky preseason favorite Eastern Washington (5-4-2, 1-1-0 BSC) on Friday, surging Idaho (5-5-1, 2-0-0 BSC) next Sunday.