On Friday night the BYU and Utah men's soccer programs didn't look as different as advertised — until the second half started.
That was when the semi-pro level Cougars broke a 1-1 tie in devastating fashion, scoring five goals after halftime to take a 6-1 win over the visiting Utes at South Field in Provo.
The offensive explosion essentially wiped out what good the Utes' pressure defense did in the early stages, making what had been a temper-filled match into a laugher before the final whistle sounded.
It was a game-breaking effort that BYU head coach Chris Watkins hopes will become commonplace before league play begins.
"For our guys to want to grab a game by the throat and run with it, that's improtant for us," Watkins said. "It's a quality we don't have enough chances for in our regular season, so we have to learn that habit."
BYU striker Jonathon Junca was in the middle of the Cougars' surge, assisting on Garrett Gee's go-ahead goal before scoring two of his own in a 60-second span.
Junca's assist and scores came within the first 20 minutes of the second half. The breakout performance, Watkins said, stemmed from the junior forward's intense approach to the game.
"Jon's an amazingly quick guy. He can get around defenders pretty well," Watkins said. "I think [his performance] takes a monkey off his back, because he thinks he should score three or four goals every game. That might not be realistic, but he really puts a lot of pressure on himself."
"Hopefully he can sleep well tonight," Watkins added, laughing.
Junca deflected the praise when told about it, crediting the team's collective offense for creating his opportunities.
"You always want to score, you always want to contribute, but I had a lot of help," Junca said. "That through-ball by Tanner [Whitworth on my first goal], he played a great ball and I just have to be on the end of it, finish it. That second goal as well, Jace [Green] had a good turn on the side, and then the ball just rolled out to me and I finished it. So it wasn't something I just did by myself."
The final margin depicted the difference of competition between the two programs. BYU is a member of the Premier Development League, a semi-professional affiliation rather than an NCAA confernece.
The club team Utes, however, appeared anything but daunted in the first 20 minutes of the match. Defender Sam Fleuchaus stole possession deep in BYU territory and passed to Keita Soto, who sent in the game's first goal in just the 10th minute.
"They had a lot of energy," Watkins admitted. "It was probably a bigger game for them than it was for us. You could tell they were defending really well with a lot of numbers and counter-attacking.
BYU's Kip Critchlow tied the game later in the half with a second-chance shot attempt after a failed cross to the middle, but the Cougars struggled to establish an offensive flow before halftime.
The second half started much more physically, with both sides seeking momentum in hopes of pulling ahead. Two yellow cards were doled out after halftime, one to Utah's Geoff Miller, the other to BYU's Alex Neff.
BYU was the first -- and, in the end, only -- team to reap any benefits after Junca's igniting effort. Romy Lakip followed with a goal of his own in the 76th minute.
Gee finished the scoring with his second goal of the match, coming up with a breakaway ball. He darted left around the Utes' goalkeeper, who had darted forward in an attempt to stop the ball, and lanced the ball in from the angle-left side.
"We had a good talk in the training room [at halftime]," Junca said. "We came out really hard with a lot of confidence, a lot of energy, put a few away and [Utah] just fell apart."
The Cougars will play the Real Salt Lake reserves on Monday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Matt Petersen is the Sports Web Editor for DeseretNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheMattPetersen.
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