For the second year in a row, the Bulldogs will play for the Class A state title.
Whitefish advances to the final after a close 1-0 win over Frenchtown Saturday at Smith Fields.
Casey Schneider was the deciding factor in the defensive battle.
In the 58th minute Schneider went on the attack off a long ball from Bulldogs keeper Colter Upton, getting his shot past the Broncs’ keeper for the score.
Head coach John Lacey said while Schneider’s score was not something he planned, he’s glad Schneider stepped up and made a play.
“We don’t have a play in our book that says, ‘Take a goal kick and turn it into a goal,’ it just snuck its way through there,” Lacey said. “His last touch to get into the box and get past their last guy was a great touch, and then he hit a great shot. We ask a lot of Casey, he has to do a lot of running and I’m glad he had enough in his tank that he was able to outrun the defender to that ball and get the shot off that he did, it was a great shot.”
The Bulldogs’ defense held on after, even in the face of aggressive attacks by Frenchtown in the final 10 minutes.
Upton kept things locked down at the net, making a big save in the 75th minute to seal the win. Upton finished the game with six saves total, including a diving save in the 26th minute.
“A lot of credit to Frenchtown, they’re a strong team and they played really well,” Lacey said. “They created more chances than us frankly. They definitely could’ve put a few more in and we got a great contribution from Colter Upton, he hasn’t been tested in too many of our games this year but he was on Saturday and he was completely up for it.”
Lacey noted the absence of his team’s usual high-scoring offense.
In a season full of highlights, he said, there’s bound to be some down days. He’s just glad his team was able to survive an off day in the postseason.
“Unlike some earlier games where we weren’t sharp at the start, in this one we never truly got into it,” he said. “We had chances, we had enough of them, but we definitely benefited from them not being as clinical in front of goal as we need to assume that Polson will be. We’re glad to have a little luck and keep going in the final.”
Now it’s back to the title match for the Bulldogs.
Their foe is familiar. They’ll face the Polson Pirates for the third time this season, having won the first match 5-0 but tied 3-3 in the second after giving up late goals to the Pirates.
Lacey says the most recent match against the Pirates isn’t indicative of how his team will be approaching the title match, as they already knew they had clinched the Northwest A title and their playoff berth.
This time, however, they’re bringing their all.
“I think we would do the last 10, 15 minutes of that game differently if it were the state final, so that piece of it is a little different,” he said. “We know them, we know their strengths. They have a couple outstanding seniors that are capable of putting their team on their back and really getting results, so we’re going to have to be sharp. We can’t afford to be as loose as we were with Frenchtown.”
Regardless of what happens, Lacey said it’s also satisfying to have the state champion come from the Northwest A conference.
“I think we’ve had good soccer up here for a long time, and I’m excited that someone from our area is going to win it,” he said.
“I hope it’s us.”
The state championship game will start at 1 p.m. at Smith Fields on Saturday.
Whitefish 0 1 — 1
Frenchtown 0 0 — 0
W – Casey Schneider (Colter Upton), 58:00
Shots on goal — Frenchtown 12, Whitefish 7; Corner kicks — Frenchtown 3, Whitefish 4; Keeper saves — Frenchtown 2 (Dawson Leishman), Whitefish 6 (Colter Upton); Fouls — Frenchtown 8, Whitefish 2; Cards — Frenchtown, 1 yellow, Whitefish, 1 yellow.