BILLINGS – Not many teams are hot enough to melt snow, but Rocky Mountain College’s men’s soccer team could certainly make the argument right now.
Fresh off winning the Cascade Conference tournament championship, the Battlin’ Bears upset and eliminated No. 5 Hastings College 3-2 on Saturday, advancing to soccer’s version of the NAIA Sweet 16.
Take your pick of words to describe it — not so much the upset, but the winter wonderland environment in which the Bears did it.
“Yeah, interesting game for sure,” head coach Richard Duffy said, smiling before practice this week while recalling the Nebraska scene. “It was 20 degrees at kickoff. The wind chill was down to 5. Inch and a half of snow on the ground, but the ball was still rolling, so we decided to go ahead with it.”
Rocky took instant advantage on that blanket of snow, scoring 40 seconds into Saturday’s match for a 1-0 lead. The Broncos weren’t the only ones in shock. Players on both sides were admittedly surprised the match wasn’t postponed.
“It was crazy, man. I could not believe it once we stepped on the field,” said Rocky midfielder Tulio Melo, a native of Brazil. “And before the game they were talking about canceling or postponing the game. We were thinking that might be a better deal for us, but we actually had to play and it was fun. It was great.”
Had it been a regular-season match, they likely would’ve canceled or, at the very least, postponed it. But this was a playoff opener. Once the green light was given, the Bears were full speed ahead.
“We were all really excited to get it going,” said defender Gregor Watson. “Everybody was up for it and we knew what we had to do to get the win. So going out there and performing, it was incredible.”
Duffy gets the feeling, after narrowly missing entry to last year’s playoffs, that two seasons worth of postseason hunger is paying off.
“Any time you can beat the No. 6 team in the country on their home field, you just got a sense of belief within the team that they can go on to that next level and hopefully compete for the national championship,” he said.
Rocky will face Vanguard University (Calif.) in the Round of 16 on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 5:30 p.m. (MT) in Irvine, Calif.