HELENA — The Bozeman Hawks are back on top of the Class AA boys soccer landscape.
Bozeman and Missoula Hellgate entered Saturday’s championship match as winners of the past six state titles — the past three by Hellgate. Bozeman’s 2-1 victory Saturday snapped Hellgate’s run at a four-peat and gave the Hawks their first state title since 2014.
“It took a lot of grit,” senior forward Jack Bentson said. “We were very passionate about this season. We played (Hellgate) last year in the semifinals and lost 3-1, and we just wanted to bounce back from that. We were a new team, so it was a new result. It felt good.”
Bentson had his hand in Bozeman’s first goal of the match. Bentson lined up a corner kick and found the head of teammate Brendan Ulvin, who redirected the ball into the back of the net to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
“To be honest, right when I played that ball I knew someone was going to get on that. We’ve been working on that for almost 30 minutes a day for every practice. It really felt good for it to pay off in that moment,” Bentson said.
Bozeman pushed its lead to 2-0 later in the first half when defender Jackson Coles raced down the left sideline. After beating his man, Coles put a shot on goal, but Helena keeper Kelson Demmons denied the attempt. However, the rebound landed right at the feet of Will Kaiser. Kaiser buried the rebound and gave Bozeman a 2-0 lead.
The score remained 2-0 late into the second half before Hellgate finally struck. Two-time defending Gatorade player of the year Matt Baldridge freed up some space and flicked the ball with the outside of his right foot to sneak it by Bozeman keeper Jovial Milich.
Hellgate kept the pressure on the final 10 minutes, trying to push across the tying goal, but the Bozeman defense stepped up as it has all year and kept the Knights from forcing overtime.
“They’re just committed. They’re hard-working,” Bozeman head coach Hunter Terry said of his defense. “We always say that attacking is art and defending is warfare. I think they kind of took that to heart. It was ‘we’re going to out-work and destroy attacks.'”
This is Bozeman’s fifth Class AA state soccer title and first since a three-peat from 2012-14.
Billings Senior finished in third place after defeating Helena High 3-0.