SANDY — Rowland Hall found itself in a very unusual position at halftime of Monday’s 2A state championship at Rio Tinto Stadium — it was losing.
Not once all season had the Winged Lions been on the short of the opening 40 minutes. It proved to be a very short-lived deficit.
Rowland Hall tied the game quickly in the second half and then tacked on a couple more goals before holding off RSL Academy’s late rally as it held on for the 3-2 victory to capture its fourth-straight 2A state title.
“I think they believed themselves honestly. I think they did a really good job coming together as a team and working as a team especially in the second half,” said Rowland Hall first-year coach Colette Jepson.
Paige Connery, Summer Connery and Kaitlyn Bates all found the back of the net for Rowland Hall, which also beat RSL Academy last year for the state title.
“We all work so hard for each other, we all show up every day ready to work and I think collectively we all know how we care about each other, and all that combined allowed us to come here and come back to Rio Tinto and get that fourth state championship,” said Bates, whose goal proved to be the game-winner as it put her team ahead 3-1 in the 69th minute.
RSL Academy’s Riley Massey pulled a goal back in the 75th minute but Rowland Hall’s defense shut things down over the final five minutes to clinch the title.
“It feels absolutely insane, we worked so hard to get where we are. It’s incredible. We all worked together,” said Bates as teammates giddily celebrated on the field behind her.
The Griffins struck first on Monday, with Taija Anderson calmly finishing a rebounded shot that had caromed straight to her off the crossbar.
Down a goal, Rowland Hall’s attack slowly started growing in confidence during the rest of the first half even though the equalizer never came.
“Even towards the end of the first half we had that momentum, we were in their half, we were getting shots off and we carried that through halftime and kept each other high,” said Bates.
The tying goal ended up coming just two minutes into the second half as Paige Connery buried a rebounded shot after RSL Academy keeper Emma Beavin made a great save on a breakaway opportunity.
The match stayed even over the next 25 minutes until a bang-bang series of events pushed Rowland Hall ahead 3-1. Summer Connery scored on a shot from outside the box in the 68th minute, and then a minute later Bates scored on a shot that was realistically intended to be more of a cross.
Bates said the sun was in her eyes when she struck the ball, and even though it required a fortunate slip through the keepers to find the back of the net, it proved to be the decisive goal.
Rowland Hall ended up finishing the season on an 11-game winning streak after dropping one-goal games in the preseason to a couple of higher-classification teams.
“This year has been so crazy, and a lot of has been just us. We didn’t get to have fans at our home field for most of the season, so I think they just believed in each other (today),” said Jepson.