Two teams have taken one more step in their quests for a 5A state championship.
Both required a penalty shootout to do so.
The Lehi Pioneers and the Alta Hawks won respective semifinal matches at Juan Diego High School Monday after 100 minutes of gameplay and a shootout, booking their spots in Wednesday’s 5A state championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium. The Pioneers won the day’s opening match 3-1 in the shootout (1-1 at the end of double overtime), while the Hawks won their shootout 3-2 (1-1 at the end of double overtime as well).
The title game appearance will be the first since 2013 for the Pioneers, who were given a clutch performance from their starting keeper Kaleb Cowley in the team’s penalty shootout.
Cowley, a sophomore nicknamed “cupcake,” certainly didn’t play like a cupcake for his side. The keeper saved three shots in the shootout and got a hand on Stansbury’s lone converted attempt to deliver a near perfect shootout for Lehi.
The result gives Cowley and the Pioneers their fourth penalty shootout victory in four tries this season, so when head coach Tim Graham saw the game go to PKs, he felt pretty confident that his boys could get the job done.
“That is the toughest kid,” Graham said of Cowley. “He has dominated PKs for us this season. His demeanor is incredible, he’s mellow, keeps everyone calm and he just knows (he’ll succeed). He even said to me, ‘we got it, I don’t know why you’re stressed coach.’”
After Cowley saved his shots, Lehi only needed to convert three shots to get the win, and Christian Jones, Nathan Shepherd and Alfred Vargas delivered.
Both of the goals in regulation came in the opening half of the game. The first was scored by Lehi’s Gavin Fenn, who caused a Stansbury defender to stumble before slotting home an impressive shot in the game’s ninth minute.
The Pioneers controlled the run of play for much of the game’s opening minutes, but the Stallions responded with a goal in the 31st minute from senior Archer Loertscher.
The teams each had opportunities to notch a second goal throughout the remainder of the match, the closest coming five minutes into the second overtime when Stansbury’s Carson Gibbons had a potential game-winning chance careen off the post.
Graham said he had an immense sense of relief come over him after seeing the shot fall off target, but knew his players would respond accordingly — as they had all season.
“The resiliency of these boys has been incredible all year,” Graham said. “They are one of the gutsiest teams I’ve ever seen — they just didn’t quit.”
Like their Region 8 counterparts, the Alta Hawks also exhibited their ability to not quit on a game.
Skyline’s Logan Sorensen sent a low free kick towards goal that beautifully nestled into the bottom left corner of the goal, giving the Eagles an early lead in the 13th minute.
It took 57 minutes of play, but after trailing for most of the game, the Hawks managed to claw their way back into a tie. Carter Bell sent a cross into the box that found the foot of Preston Ludlow to give Alta the late equalizer it had been long searching for.
Two scoreless overtimes sent the game to a shootout, where keeper Thiago Moreira left his mark on the game.
Moreira watched on as Cowley made his saves in Lehi’s shootout and must’ve decided that he’d do the same for his team. The sophomore made three big saves, leaving room for senior David Okerlund to slot home the winning PK that gave the Hawks the 3-2 victory.
“It’s three saves in a shootout, what else can you say,” Alta head coach Mackenzie Hyer said. “That won it for us. He was awesome.”
After a quarterfinal victory over Brighton that required a fair share of determination, the Hawks rallied together once again, this time to advance to the championship game where they will face a Lehi squad they split games with in the regular season.
“They just believe in each other, they love each other so much and it shows,” Hyer said.
“We just played until the end and had that belief. … What’s great about this team is that they do the right things all the time. When we practice they focus, they love the game and they have fun. We get to have one more practice and we get to play one more game, so we’re excited.”