PROVO — Known for its stalwart defense, it was Highland's offensive-minded players that came up huge in the opening round of the 4A state soccer tournament on Wednesday.
Senior Alvin Garcia scored twice and Andres Irvin tacked on a stoppage-time insurance goal to lift the visiting Rams to a 3-1 victory over Provo in a surprisingly physical game.
"In a playoff game, for us to score three goals is huge," said Highland coach Lloyd Siegendorf. "Of the 15 games we've played, this was the most complete game."
The three-goal outburst was indeed a surprise. In its six combined games against the other three playoff teams from Region 6, the Rams scored a whopping three goals.
Garcia made sure scoring wasn't a problem on Wednesday, with quality finishes in the 37th and 52nd minutes, before Provo whittled the deficit in half with a 56th-minute tally.
With the victory, Highland advances to face Region 5 champion Box Elder in the quarterfinals this Friday. Garcia says the Rams have no problem going on the road again.
"It's no secret we like playing away more than at home," he said.
Highland wasn't necessarily sharp early on, but a violent 11th-minute collision in the box changed the entire complexion of the match.
Until that point, Provo had been the better team, but that all changed when Provo striker Christian Cordoso collided recklessly in the box with Highland keeper Hayes Hicken.
Hicken was forced to leave the game for about 10 minutes to get a bloody nose and swollen mouth attended to, and Cordoso was lucky to only be shown a yellow card.
Once Hicken returned, Highland found its groove. Center back Luke Kooyman was unlucky not to score on a corner kick in the 24th minute, banging a header off the post. But the Rams were eventually rewarded for their sustained attack, as Garcia headed a cross off the fingertips of Provo's keeper in the 37th minute.
"It started turning for us, and we started clicking more and we started possessing the ball a little more," said Garcia.
Twelve minutes into the second half, Garcia tacked on his second goal, redirecting a wonderful cross from Irvin just inside the post.Comment on this story
Provo's Cordoso responded fourth minutes later with a fantastic volley from the top of the box, and he nearly equalized in the 75th minute, pushing a breakaway shot just wide.
Highland iced the game in the 80th minute as Irvin dispossessed a Provo defender at the top of the box and curled a shot past a helpless keeper.
Siegendorf was very proud of the way his team gutted out the win.
"Last year we didn't have a history of playing in cold weather and rain. The fact we were able to stay composed and we're a year older and mature, I'm proud of the kids," he said.