LAUREL -- It's hard to believe the Laurel Locomotives were playing in their seventh straight State A girls soccer championship, but had only hosted a title match once (2004, a runner-up finish). It's even harder to believe Saturday's frantic finish.
Laurel trailed Whitefish 2-0 with 16 minutes left before reeling off three unanswered goals to capture a 3-2 overtime win and back-to-back State A titles.
Senior forward Maeson Cotter put Laurel on the board after beating a defender in traffic and connecting straight-on, top shelf in the 74th minute. With 10 minutes to play, junior defender Grace Wagner drilled the equalizer with a 40-yard launch that sailed over the head of Bulldogs goalkeeper Sami Galbraith.
“To be completely honest, I was dribbling the ball, I beat one girl and nobody was coming to pressure me," Wagner recalled to MTN Sports after Saturday's match from nearly the same spot she connected. "Ms. (assistant coach Valerie) Nauman this entire year had said, 'Grace, you can shoot this. You do it every day in practice taking penalty kicks from 50 yards.' So I just said, 'I’m going to take this,' and it went in and I just went … (covered her mouth with one hand in disbelief) ... and everybody came around me and I was just in awe. I really didn’t take it in until we were done.”
Wagner's shot sent the match into overtime. Midway through the first 10-minute period senior midfielder Gracie Willis delivered a through ball to fellow senior Morgan Maack, who tapped the left-footed game winner past Galbraith's outstretch leg as she challenged the shot.
“We were down in the beginning and kind of getting frantic and stuff, but we just stuck together as a team and knew this was our game to win," Cotter told MTN Sports.
"One thing I love about this team is, we never give up," Wagner said. "We play to the absolute last second no matter what and that is why I love playing with all these girls. I'm going to miss them (seniors) so much next year."
Cotter said she couldn't have asked for a much better soccer career, capping it with three state titles and second place as a sophomore.
"We're really going to miss each other and playing with each other," she said, "but we've had a really good run for our four years."
Emma Barron scored both Whitefish goals on the heels of penalty calls. Barron hit the post with a direct kick that bounced in at 31:58. She then delivered what appeared to be the dagger on a penalty kick with 18 minutes left in the match for the Bulldogs' 2-0 lead.
But Barron's penalty attempts were the only two put on net for Whitefish (11-1-1), which was out-shot 33-2 by Laurel. Galbraith tallied 16 saves, but Laurel (10-0-1) dominated the ratio of possession.
"It felt like we controlled much of the game," Locomotives head coach Aloma Jess told MTN Sports, "and we put in some decent shots. Whitefish has an exceptional goalkeeper. We knew that going in. I just kept telling the girls, 'You have to grind it out, have to stay connected, have to keep taking those shots.'
"I'm just really proud of those girls for sticking with it. They just don't have any quit in them, they just keep trying harder. Their motto is, 'Whatever it takes,' and I guess that's what they did (Saturday)."