WOODS CROSS — "It's like Christmas," Murray head coach Brian DeMann said of the Spartans' advancement over Orem to the 4A state championship game.
Tuesday's 1-0 semifinal victory was a gift the Spartans were so close to receiving in 2010 and 2011 when they suffered semifinal losses to Brighton and Fremont.
"It's just cool," he said. "We're proud. Not too many teams get a chance to do this three years in a row, which is something that, win or lose, I would be patting my guys on the back for."
Fortunately for the Spartans, this year's pat on the back was the result of a victory, not the team's third consecutive trip to the semifinals.
"There's nothing much better than going to Rio Tinto," he said excitedly.
Clayton Powell became the hero when he scored his first goal of the season to punch Murray's ticket to the championship game. The junior forward found the net in the fourth minute to ultimately oust the Tigers with the narrow 1-0 advantage.
"It was due to come," he said of the goal. "It felt good."
Thomas Rodriguez worked the ball down the sideline to earn the corner kick that set up the goal. The corner was nearly cleared with a header, but Powell was there to fire it right back into the net with his left foot.
With the semifinal contest being Murray's third in three years, the Spartans relied on veteran experience and leadership in the backfield.
"We had Rodriguez and Summers putting a body on him, making sure he didn't get anything too easy," DeMann said. "We just wanted to make sure he was working hard, hard, hard."
Gay, the fourth leading scorer in class 4A with 18 goals, saw very few viable chances and was forced to try his luck with free kicks. The Tigers were unable to convert their set-piece opportunities.
Orem junior Daniel Corbett acted as an offensive spark, helping to create open looks and better the Tigers' chances. The midfielder outraced his opponent down the sideline time and time again, nearly scoring in the 11th minute when he snuck one around the keeper, forcing a Murray defender to make a sliding save.
The Tigers worked it around up front, sending balls across the net and weaving it through defenders, though all in vain. Q Bailey orchestrated things in the backfield and put up a valiant defensive effort in the loss.