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Montana opens league with 1-0 road win

02 Dec 2021 | 07:55 | Football

In a battle between the top two teams in the Big Sky Conference preseason poll, it was Montana that got its league schedule off to a winning start with a 1-0 victory at Northern Arizona on Friday night.

Caitlin Rogers’ first career goal, unassisted off a free kick from near midfield, was the match’s lone goal and all the Grizzlies (5-4-0, 1-0-0 BSC) would need to post their fourth consecutive shutout.

In Montana’s last three matches, against Boise State, Long Beach State and Northern Arizona, all 1-0 wins, the Grizzlies were in a 0-0 deadlock at halftime.

In all three Montana found a way to get the job done in the second half, with the three game-winning goals coming from three different players.

On Friday night it was Rogers’ turn. In the 57th minute she took a free kick that skipped right at the six-yard box and through the hands and legs of Northern Arizona goalkeeper Natalie Manzo.

Credit, if not an assist, goes to Taylor Stoeger, who crashed the box and brought two Lumberjack defenders with her, which added to the commotion surrounding Manzo as she tried to make the play.

Caitlin Rogers, first career goal, amazing. Sometimes you need luck to win games. We’ll take it,” said Montana coach Chris Citowicki, who improved to 21-4-7 against Big Sky opponents in his career.

“I’d also say we maximized our luck. The ball went to the right spot, the runner was in the right spot and if someone misses the ball, we’ll take it. When they had their chances, Cam was just amazing.”

That’s Camellia Xu, who collected her fifth shutout of the season in a performance that rivaled her effort in last week’s 1-0 road win at Long Beach State.

She wasn’t under as much pressure for 90 minutes, but the Lumberjacks actually put more shots on goal than the Beach did. Xu was there to make eight saves.

It was more than a matchup of 1 vs. 2. It was the Big Sky tournament championship matchup from April that went unplayed. Flagstaff was ready, with 810 fans piling into Lumberjack Stadium.

“We talked before the game about approaching this without a lot of emotion. Big crowd, they are going to be screaming at us, it’s going to be crazy,” said Citowicki.

“Can we be professional? Can we put in a professional performance and maintain it until we score the goal that wins the game?”

Montana had the better opportunities in the first half. That those chances didn’t lead to a goal did nothing to faze the Grizzlies. They just kept creating and defending.

Until the moment arrived on what was just Rogers’ 10th career shot.

Just as impressive as the goal was Montana’s response. Talk about professional. The Grizzlies kept pushing for more, taking three more shots in the next five minutes.

Holding the lead, nothing broke down. No focus was lost anywhere on the field. Indeed: Northern Arizona would go more than 20 minutes between shots after Rogers’ goal.

The Lumberjacks pressed forward hard in the final 10 minutes and created four late shots. Three were on goal. Each was saved by Xu.

It was the usual defenders in front of her, Rogers and Allie Larsen, plus Charley Boone, who played the final 29 minutes in place of Molly Quarry and “did exceptionally well,” said Citowicki.

“We had to see it out the right way. I feel like we’re becoming a very mature squad that knows how to win games and close them out. Now we need to go to Southern Utah and do it again.”

The Grizzlies will face the Thunderbirds (1-8-0, 0-1-0 BSC) in Cedar City at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Southern Utah, which is on an eight-match losing streak, fell at home 3-1 to Northern Colorado on Friday.

In other Big Sky games, Eastern Washington won 3-1 at Idaho State and Weber State came back from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 in double overtime at home over Idaho.