The Bulldog boys soccer team showed off its offensive firepower Saturday to earn the title of state champions.
Whitefish defeated Polson in the Class A state title match at Smith Fields, in a 6-2 win. This is Whitefish’s first state championship since 2012.
Leading the team was senior and captain Xander Burger who capped off his career with a dominant offensive performance on the pitch, netting five goals in his final match as a Bulldog before the home crowd of hundreds.
Head coach John Lacey said he was elated to see the goals his team set in the beginning of the season come to life.
“Obviously we’ve been looking forward to this day for awhile, and it’s exciting,” he said. “I’m so proud of the effort they put in. They’ve been building toward this — I don’t want to say anything was expected, but they knew what they were capable of, and they worked and earned it every step of the way.”
This is the sixth state title in the program’s history and the most for any Class A boys team.
During the sunny October day, the Bulldogs certainly followed through on what has seemingly become Lacey’s mantra throughout this season: “Goals win games.”
Burger got the first points on the board in the 27th minute, finding the net on a close-range shot off an Ian Lacey assist.
Just three minutes later Casey Schneider found Burger sprinting into the penalty box for the second goal, opening up a 2-0 lead.
Polson answered, however, with a goal by senior Nico River, who blasted a shot into the left corner of the goal, just past Whitefish Keeper Colter Upton.
The Dogs led 2-1 at halftime.
Burger again found the net just a minute into the second half, and Polson followed suit, scoring in the 44th minute to keep the lead to a single goal.
A huge momentum shift in the 58th minute put the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat for good.
After Josh Gunderson was tackled in the box by a Polson player, Lacey buried the penalty shot to open the lead up to 4-2.
It was all Bulldogs from there on out.
Burger added to his hat trick with a left-footed shot in the 71st minute and a goal from the left side of the box just five minutes later.
The Bulldogs finish the season 15-0-1 record. Their only tie came from a regular season game at Polson.
Last year the Bulldogs fell to Belgrade in the state title, a match that Burger sat out due to a concussion.
Lacey noted how Saturday’s match was the perfect way to send off Burger and fellow senior Ammann Koch-Ford.
“This was their last match and I have not seen a high school game like Xander’s in a long time, it was an outstanding match,” he said.
Speaking on Burger’s performance, Lacey said his senior has always known when the team needed him to step up.
This was one of those matches, he said.
“I think he seized the moment. He has always had good games against Polson. I think the strength of their team requires him to step up, because they play right through the middle and that’s his area,” Lacey said. “The stage is never too big for him. He knows how to play and bring extra energy to games like this when it matters. Not getting to do it last year, I don’t think that’s been eating at him, but I think he knew what today was and wanted to go out the right way, it was outstanding.”
Burger remained humble talking about the match, saying the offensive performance was just a culmination of the kind of soccer his team has played all season long.
“I just think our energy was up. We’ve waited the whole year to get to this point and we really pulled it together,” Burger said. “It speaks for itself, no losses, one tie. It feels pretty good.”
Lacey said the team’s mindset shifted to being more aggressive in the second half.
With the team’s only tie coming as the result of a late comeback by Polson in the regular season’s final match, Lacey said he wanted nothing to do with a close second half this time around.
“We talked at halftime about going and getting more goals. We know their energy, we’ve been in tight games before. We did not want those last 10 minutes to be a one-goal game, that was going to make things a lot more difficult and frankly too exciting for everyone,” he said.
Plus, winning the state championship at home on a beautiful day felt pretty good, Lacey said.
“I’m so excited that we get to do this on a nice day in front of our own fans,” he said. “The community has been fantastic, Whitefish certainly knows soccer championships so I’m glad to bring one back.”
Whitefish 2 4 — 6
Polson 1 1 — 2
W – Xander Burger (Ian Lacey), 27:00
W – Burger (Casey Schneider), 30:00
P – Nico River (Bridger Wenzel), 33:00
W – Burger (Schneider), 41:00
P – Robin Erickson, 44:00
W – Lacey (penalty kick), 58:00
W – Burger, 71:00
W – Burger (Lacey), 76:00
Shots – Whitefish 14, Polson 11; Keeper saves – Whitefish 9 (Colter Upton), Polson 8 (Kaden Nelson); Corner kicks – Whitefish 8, Polson 2; Fouls – Whitefish 11, Polson 10.