SANDY If any game served as a perfect measuring stick for either Alta or Brighton, this was it.
The two-time defending champion and No. 1-ranked Hawks had faced little resistance offensively or defensively early in the season. And the Bengals turned a potential rebuilding year into a No. 2 ranking and are talking about bigger things with inspired play on both sides of the ball.
A timely offensive explosion helped Alta preserve its top-ranked status against its upstart rivals.
Forwards Ashley Jones and Kealia Ohai punched in goals within a minute of each other midway through the first half to lift the Hawks to a 3-0 victory on Wednesday afternoon.
"Once we start scoring, it's hard to stop us," Jones said. "We get really intense."
For 20 minutes, the game possessed all the elements of a classic defensive slugfest. Scoring chances, on both sides, were almost a novelty.
That all changed when the Bengals were whistled for a handball infraction in the 22nd minute. It set up a chip-shot penalty kick for Jones. The senior arced the ball up and over keeper Amanda Oswald to give Alta 1-0 lead.
Brighton barely had a chance to catch its breath when Jones played a through ball to Ohai a minute later.
Ohai cut through the heart of
the defense with one of her patented drives and Oswald raced out to stop her.
It proved futile. Ohai rocketed the ball home for a 2-0 advantage.
Hawks coach Lee Mitchell can't even imagine how things would be without the game-changing abilities utilized by his dynamic up-front tandem.
"I'm sure glad they're playing for us and not against us," Mitchell said.
Alta's focus eventually tuned to holding off Brighton's inevitable second-half charge. It wasn't easy. The Bengals' offense attacked frequently and nearly scored a few times.
Jessica Ringwood looked to have Brighton's first goal in the 57th minute when she wove around Morgan Bridge and Lexy Webber and fired at the far post. But Tashia Long denied Ringwood by punching the ball away at the last moment.
Stephanie Verdoia also came up shy later in the half. She went one-on-one with Natalie Norris during the 70th minute and skirted the ball past Norris. But Long arrived on cue to make the catch and did so again when Verdoia tried to sneak one in from the far post in the 74th minute.
"Always, at halftime, the momentum changes," Mitchell said. "You've got to come out and reestablish the pace and the tempo of the game, and Brighton did that. I warned our kids and it took us a little while to get back into the flow."Ohai eased the threat for Alta in the 64th minute by taking another pass from Jones and capping off the ensuing breakaway by bending a shot inside the left post for the Hawks' final goal.