(Editor's note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA - The Montana soccer team was just moments away from an impressive victory over Wyoming on Sunday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula when disaster struck.
Needing to simply maintain possession and run out the clock for what would have been a 1-0 win over the Cowgirls, whose only loss on the season has come against Baylor, the Grizzlies failed to finish.
Gifted the ball late, Wyoming made one final push forward and turned a Grizzly foul just inside the 18-yard box into a penalty-kick goal with two seconds left in regulation.
Neither team scored in overtime, resulting in a 1-1 draw that left Montana’s players, coaches and fans feeling like they’d just suffered a heartbreaking loss, not a tie.
“It’s unacceptable to not close out a game like that,” said coach Chris Citowicki. “If we’re going to be a program that says we want to win all the time, then you have to be able to close out games.
“We can’t be excited about tying Wyoming. We were the better team and had the better chances. We had the game and gave it away. It’s our own fault.”
Had things turned out differently, had Kendall Furrow’s first career goal in the 49th minute held up as the game-winner, it would have been one of the best regular-season wins in Citowicki’s short tenure.
The Cowgirls (3-1-3) shared the Mountain West Conference regular-season title last year and entered Sunday’s match unbeaten against teams from the Big Sky Conference, outscoring Northern Colorado, Idaho State and Southern Utah 9-3.
Montana held that team to two shots in the first half and to just four through the first 81 minutes. It was set up to be a 1-0 victory that was more one-sided than the final score would indicate.
That the Grizzlies had a corner kick with 75 seconds left in regulation only makes the result sting that much more.
“Why are we trying to score a goal when we should be taking it to a corner and holding it? We gave them the opportunity to get back in the game because of youthful inexperience and poor coaching by me for not addressing it earlier,” said Citowicki.
Given possession, the Cowgirls used a series of throw-ins to steadily move the ball up the sideline in the final minute. It was then that 89 minutes of excellent play was undone by a few sloppy seconds.
With the 10-second countdown to zero and victory underway, the ball made its way into the far reaches of the 18-yard box, where multiple Griz defenders converged on the ball and the Wyoming player possessing it.
So excited were they to clear the threat and celebrate the win that they ran over the Cowgirl. And so blatant was the foul that no one could even argue the call that came with two seconds left on the clock.
Savannah Warner converted the penalty kick, scoring inside the left post, and a long history of draws between Montana and Wyoming had its latest entry, none before coming in such stunning fashion.
“You’ve just got to keep playing in those moments, and they’ll happen. Let the game take care of itself,” said Wyoming coach Pete Cuadrado, who is in his eighth season with the Cowgirls after a successful run at North Dakota State. So he’s seen some things.
“Better late than never, you know? It was definitely a gritty performance by us to match such a physical team.”
The end result overshadowed a breakout performance by Furrow, who was on the field for just 55 minutes last fall before her season was cut short by injury.
She made her 2019 debut last Sunday at Cal, playing 15 minutes. She was on the field for 20 on Friday in Montana’s win over Cal Poly.
She played the final six minutes of the first half against the Cowgirls, then got the nod to start the second and stepped onto the field with something to prove.
Furrow got her chance less than four minutes in. The daughter of a former Nebraska football player inserted her 5-foot-7 frame -- and outsized feistiness -- into the scrum and headed in Caitlin Rogers’ well-placed corner kick.
“It was just determination to score and put one away. Coming off the bench, you’ve got to match the energy that’s on the field,” she said.
“My mindset was I wanted to put this thing away. I want to be an impact player coming off the bench. This was a great game for me, a great test.”
Furrow wasn’t done yet. She almost ended it in the 99th minute when she picked up a loose ball on the right sideline and put a powerful shot just off goal. It sailed over Wyoming goalkeeper Hannah Lee’s outstretched hands and banged off the far post.
But maybe it’s better that it didn’t go in. Maybe the lessons learned from the collapse in the final minutes of regulation needed that ball to stay out of the net to be most painfully internalized.
Maybe the program will be stronger because of it. Out of the postgame darkness, that’s the glimmer of hope.
“We let Cal Poly out of the corner multiple times (in Friday’s 1-0 win) and let them have chances. We did the same thing to Wyoming and they get the equalizing goal,” said Citowicki.
“You need a game like this, when you get completely burned by it so that you can learn your lesson and it never happens again.”
Montana (1-3-3) will conclude its nonconference schedule next weekend with matches at San Francisco (5-3) on Friday and Saint Mary’s (3-4) on Sunday.