No matter how good of a goalkeeper one is, it’s rarely a welcome sight to see the referee point to the penalty spot, especially when it’s in one of the biggest games of your life.
With her team up 1-0 with just under 10 minutes left in Saturday’s 3A championship match at Rio Tinto Stadium, Ogden sophomore keeper Emily Blackford looked on as a penalty was awarded to a Morgan Trojans team that was desperately searching for an equalizer.
But although nerves initially struck the keeper, feelings of confidence began to overtake them.
“(Penalty kicks) are always just nervewracking and there’s a lot of emotions going through your head,” Blackford said. “But I was like, ‘Emily, you’ve saved PKs before, you’ve just gotta be big and read her foot.’ I read her foot and read the ball right, and I saved it. In the end I was pretty confident I was going to save it, but at first I was nervous.”
The save was the last of eight saves from Blackford — seven of which came in the second half of the match — as Ogden went on to see the final minutes out to secure a 1-0 victory and the 3A state title to go along with it.
Ogden head coach Ryan Robinson said that Blackford picked a timely day to have what he described as the best performance he’d seen her have.
“Emily stepped up big today,” Robinson said. “She played better than she’s ever played in the biggest game. She’s a stud.”
The championship game win was the second in the last three years for the Tigers, who won the 2019 state championship in the 4A classification before being moved to 3A. The title was the first for Robinson, who coached the Tigers in a gutting loss in last season’s 4A state championship game.
It seemed as though last year’s loss at Rio Tinto made Robinson that much more appreciative of how his Tigers pulled through this year, capping off their season with a hoisting of the state championship trophy.
“I’m just grateful,” Robinson said. “They’re a good group. To have two teams from the same region that have played each other three times (now), nobody deserves it more or less, but they’re just a good group of girls and I’m super grateful to be involved with them.”
In addition to the championship — but less importantly — the victory for Ogden gave it a tie-breaking win over the Trojans after the two teams split wins in their matchups in region play.
All three of the games between Ogden and Morgan ended up being decided by only one goal.
Though the win required late heroics from Blackford, she wasn’t the only sophomore who performed heroically, as Neveah Peregrina delivered the game’s only goal.
In the 46th minute, with a stunning display of individual skill, Peregrina booted an in-swinging free kick from the left side of the field beyond the reach of Morgan’s keeper and into the back of the net.
The goal was jaw-dropping to everyone except Robinson, who said Peregrina would be able to deliver the same play eight times out of 10 if she tried to recreate the goal on the practice field, where Peregrina spent a lot of time working to perfect the skill.
“I try to take (those shots) a lot of practice to try to get ready for the games because we’ve had a few opportunities to take that shot (in past games),” Peregrina said. “I guess all that hard work just paid off in those practices.”
Robinson said that Peregrina is unlike any player he has ever coached before.
“She loves everything about soccer,” Robinson said. “You know, girls sometimes get a little competitive with each other, but she’s always just so happy for everyone around her. She’s a fantastic player, teammate, everything.”
Robinson was reluctant to look forward to the future too much given the significant contributions he received from his seniors this past season, but he said that having players such as Blackford and Peregrina, among many others, certainly makes him excited for what the future may bring for Ogen soccer.
But for now, the Tigers will be celebrating Saturday’s championship.
“I can’t believe that just happened,” Blackford said. “I’m just really happy and I still have two more years with this club and can’t wait to have more memories.”