SANDY — There have been a lot of great chapters in the Alta-Brighton soccer rivalry, and Connor Sheffield made sure Tuesday’s clash will be remembered with the best of them.
His 100th-minute free kick curled just past the fingertips of Brighton’s 'keeper and into the upper corner of the net, capping No. 2 Alta’s stunning double-overtime 1-0 victory over No. 1 and previously unbeaten Brighton.
Mere seconds from the final whistle of a past-paced, yet goalless Region 3 match, Brighton was whistled for a handball about 25 yards from goal. Sheffield’s left-footed shot was likely going to be the last kick of the ball — whether it went in or not.
The senior struck the free kick perfectly, slipping it just around Brighton’s five-man wall and into the goal, ensuring that Alta celebrated a win over nationally ranked Brighton instead of just a tie. Brighton came into the match ranked No. 11 in country according to MaxPreps.
“It was unreal,” said Sheffield of delivering the dramatic game-winner. “That was a first.”
With the win, Alta improved to 13-1 overall and 7-1 in region play, while Brighton fell to 12-1 and 6-1.
The Hawks came into the match with a chip on their shoulder after losing to Brighton 1-0 earlier this year on a first-half penalty kick at Rio Tinto Stadium, and that extra motivation showed defensively. It needed that extra focus defensively too against such a dangerous attacking team like Brighton.
The Bengals are a very gifted technical team, and they certainly enjoyed more of the ball throughout Tuesday’s match at Alta. Each attacking movement though, no matter how promising, was always snuffed out by Alta’s defense over the 100-minute match.
“Every time we play them, it’s such a good game. It’s so back and forth. Each team is going to get a break one game. They got it last game and we got it this game,” said Alta center back Aaron Wooden.
Despite attacking into the wind during the first half, Brighton came out on the front foot, and was realistically unlucky not to score in the 27th minute when J Jones banged a shot from distance off the right post. Jones’ shot was the only clear-cut chance Alta conceded during the first half.
With the tail wind in the second half, Brighton became increasingly more dangerous in the attacking third as strikers Matt Coffey and Ben Perkins continued to find space in front of Alta’s backline. Unfortunately for the Bengals there was never space behind the back four to exploit.
“Everybody we put in gave it everything they had, and we had to have that,” said Alta coach Lee Mitchell.
Late in regulation, Coffey nearly broke the deadlock with a driven tight-angled shot that bounced just past the post.
Late in the first overtime, Alta 'keeper Dylan McIllece made a diving save on a Coffey kick from roughly the same spot that Sheffield scored from in the 100th minute. When Sheffield had a similar chance, he made the most of it with his second goal of the season.
“Brighton-Alta is always a great game — good rivalry. It’s always a hard-fought game, just glad to be a part of it,” said Sheffield.
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