(Editor's note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA - Sophomore defender McKenzie Kilpatrick spent most of Friday afternoon helping Montana keep Cal Poly off the scoreboard in the teams’ matchup at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
Then, in the 80th minute, she had a chance break a scoreless deadlock.
Her shot from the top of the box rippled the netting inside the right post and gave the Grizzlies a 1-0 victory in what became their home opener after last Friday’s match against UC Santa Barbara became a no-result due to weather.
It was Kilpatrick’s first career goal, and it gave Montana (1-3-2) its first win of the season.
“It feels good, especially against this team. If you look at their track record, every other game was 1-0, so everything has been very close,” said coach Chris Citowicki.
“The message at halftime was, you have to keep going. Sooner or later something is going to slip through.”
Both teams had scoring chances in the first half, none better than Alexa Coyle’s shot from distance that Cal Poly goalkeeper Sophia Brown got enough of finger on to redirect off the crossbar.
As the teams were creating eight second-half corner kicks, the feeling at South Campus Stadium wasn’t if a goal was coming but when. And by which team.
Montana’s moment came in the 80th minute. Just seconds after she reentered the match, Sydney Haustein put the game-winning play in motion when she sent a shot into the box that was blocked by heavy traffic.
The ball knocked around until it came out to Kilpatrick, who could be found pressing forward from her outside back position every chance she got on Friday.
“Chris kept telling me to push up, push up, get on the 18, and when it comes back, put it in,” she said. “That’s how it is when we’re going toward the goal. Anything that comes out, you put it back in.”
But this was no moment filled with haste, a defender out of her element. Kilpatrick collected the ball, got it going toward goal with a touch or two and -- ignoring calls from teammates who thought they had the perfect shot -- knocked in the game-winner.
“Right after I took that first touch, it was like tunnel vision,” Kilpatrick said. “I heard people calling for the ball, but I was like, this one’s mine.”
It was, and it was the only mark in the matchup between Brown and Montana goalkeeper Claire Howard, who would collect her 19th career shutout to tie Railene Thorson for second in the program record book while moving within five of Kailey Norman’s standard of 24.
“It was maybe the only time their goalkeeper was out of position, and we hit the perfect shot at that moment to get the win,” said Citowicki.
“That’s what it was going to take to break them down, to just keep going back to the well until we finally got what we wanted.”
It was a well-earned reward for Kilpatrick, who was used sparingly last fall as a freshman but has been emerging as an end-to-end impact player early in her sophomore year.
“She said it was like the Red Sea parting. There it is, there’s my space. And what a shot,” said Citowicki. “She is in that type of form right now, that you fully trust her to do something like that.
“The last three games she’s been incredible. She deserves something like this, because we see it every day in practice from her.”
It was a match that saw Cal Poly have the upper-hand in time of possession -- the Mustangs held the ball for 57 percent of the game -- but the Grizzlies finish with a 14-7 advantage in shots.
Montana was just more dangerous.
Seventy percent of Cal Poly’s possession came in the middle half of the field, which shines a light on the work done by holding midfielder Avery Adams and the back line behind her.
The Mustangs were frequently on the doorstep, but rarely to be let inside where they could do damage. Howard made four saves for the shutout.
“They are very good in the middle and created good opportunities against us in the back,” said Citowicki, who started Adams at holding midfielder, in place of Ali Monroe.
It was the position she was playing when Montana first began recruiting her, so she was returning to a spot on the field she knows well.
“The person who probably wasn’t noticed today and maybe won’t get enough of a mention is Avery Adams,” said Citowicki.
“How many balls did they try to play through that she headed away or intercepted and started a play for us? She was huge.”
Coyle would take half of Montana’s shots on the day, seven of 14. Kennedy Yost took two. Kilpatrick took one, the shot of the day.
The win sends Montana with some momentum into Sunday’s matchup at South Campus Stadium against one-loss Wyoming (3-1-2), which is having its way with teams from the Big Sky Conference this season.
The Cowgirls already had wins over Northern Colorado and Idaho State before adding another over Southern Utah on Friday, 2-0.
The teams will square off at 1 p.m., following a match between Idaho State and Cal Poly at 10 a.m.