After 40 minutes had been played in Tuesday’s 6A second round matchup between Mountain Ridge and West, the Sentinels found themselves trailing by a goal to nil.

With only a handful of half chances to show for their opening half performance, the Sentinels realized that the next 40 minutes of play could be their last as a group, with 11 seniors set to graduate in the coming weeks. 

What a difference that realization made.

Mountain Ridge went on to score three goals in the second half to defeat the eighth-seeded Panthers 3-1 and advance to the 6A quarterfinals. 

“We decided — because we have a lot of seniors — that if we went out there and lost it, we’re done and all the seniors were going out,” Mountain Ridge junior midfielder TJ Lightfoot said. 

“Everyone decided to play harder and pressure them harder, and that was what the difference was (in the second half). We just pressured their back line and didn’t allow them to get up.”

The energy was good for the Sentinels coming out of the gates in the second half, but that energy increased exponentially when Lightfoot secured the equalizing goal in the 55th minute of play. 

Lightfoot found some space to roam between West’s midfield and back lines, took a touch to set himself up and then drilled home an unsavable top-corner finish from nearly 30 yards out.

The goal flipped a switch for the Sentinels, who went on to dominate the rest of the match.

“Any time you get a goal of that quality, it’s going to really energize the team,” Mountain Ridge coach Eric Arthur said. “That was a really big, hype moment for us. (Lightfoot) is a really good teammate, always hyping others up, so I think the team was happy for him, and yeah it lit a fire under us for sure.”

The impressive goal was the first of the season for Lightfoot, who had seen similar shots deflect off the post at least three times this season, according to Arthur, who referred to Lightfoot as the “team’s engine in the middle.”

“It was one of those ones that you just hit and hope it goes in,” Lightfoot said. “It just knuckled right into that top corner and felt good.”

The goal contributions didn’t stop there for the junior No. 8, as Lightfoot played a perfectly weighted through ball to a sprinting Gavin Ayers, whose shot snuck past West’s keeper and into the back of the net for Mountain Ridge’s go-ahead goal. The goal came just five minutes after Lightfoot scored the equalizer. 

The third Mountain Ridge goal came in the 69th minute after a free kick from Brody Laga was saved by the West keeper, but deflected into the path of senior forward Rylan Schulz, who tapped-in the ball to all but seal the win for the Sentinels. 

West — led by juniors Christian Rodriguez and Erick Zar, who combined for the Panthers’ lone goal — managed a couple of half chances the rest of the way, but none that really threatened the Mountain Ridge defense. 

With the win, the Region 3 champion Sentinels have won nine of their last 10 games and carry a current form much better than what their No. 9 seeding may suggest. 

“We didn’t start the season the way that we expected to,” Arthur said. 

“We made some changes about halfway through the season and our form’s been great since then. We do maybe feel a bit of disrespect for not getting a first round bye despite winning the region, but it’s fine. It gave us a game to get into the (playoff) flow and we’re happy with where we’re at.”

Mountain Ridge’s seeding puts it right in the path of the 6A’s top-seeded Lone Peak Knights, who won their second round match over 16-seeded Hunter in extra time on Tuesday. The two teams will meet on Thursday for a chance to play in the 6A semifinals.

Lightfoot said that the Sentinels are confident and ready to take on the challenge the Knights may present. 

“I think we have the best kids in the state, it’s just whether we play together or not,” Lightfoot said. “It takes a whole team to beat an opponent like Lone Peak, but if we play like we did in the second half today, with everyone pressing and playing hard, then I think we can beat them.”