We have been working hard for this. We lost our first game of the season and we haven’t lost since. We’ve tied a couple, but we are working to go all the way. —Desert Hills head coach Benji Nelson
OREM — What does it take to beat a great team?
That question, perhaps more than any other, had defined the Desert Hills Thunder season heading into Thursday afternoon’s first-round contest against the Mountain View Bruins in the boys 4A state soccer tournament.
The Thunder had played their fair share of great teams this year to sure, from a preseason bout with Orem, to region games against Dixie and Snow Canyon, but they had yet to come away with a victory over one.
Tie? Yes. The Thunder tied with the Warriors twice and the Flyers once.
Compete with? Absolutely. They gave the Tigers everything they could handle, in Orem, in the first game of the year.
For whatever reason, however, they had yet to figure out how to beat the best.
That is until Thursday afternoon at Mountain View High School.
Led by goal scorers Brock Parry and Ben Simister, not to mention a host of other Thunder players, including Walker Heaton, Will Schroeder, Kelton Holt, Garrett Lewis and Jonny Rogers, Desert Hills defeated Mountain View 2-1 and secured a berth in the quarterfinals of the 4A state tourney.
Just as important, they finally beat a great team (prior to Thursday’s defeat, the No. 4-ranked Bruins had lost all of one game this season, a 3-1 loss to Orem in the last game of the regular season).
“We knew it was going to be tough coming up here,” Desert Hills head coach Benji Nelson said. “We thought we matched up well, but we knew it was going to be tough.”
“We have been working hard for this,” Simister added. “We lost our first game of the season and we haven’t lost since. We’ve tied a couple, but we are working to go all the way.”
The Thunder certainly had to work Thursday, and even then, hard work often didn’t appear to be enough.
From the outset, the visitors looked to be the better side. The Thunder out-possessed, outshot and even out-efforted the Bruins in the first half.
“That is what we have to do,” Nelson said. “Any game where you don’t do that you have a chance of losing. That is a thing about our region (Region 9), all the teams just played hard all the time.”
Despite their best efforts, Desert Hills trailed Mountain View 1-0 at the half, thanks to a Bruin goal by Cristobal “Cris” Zamorano, on a shallow cross by Ryan VandenBos.
“That’s soccer,” said Nelson. “One goal changes the game. That is all it takes; one goal. You can be a team that outplays and out possesses the other team and still you don’t win.”
Things appeared to get even worse for the Thunder in the second half, as the Bruins flipped the script, controlled possession and appeared well on their way to a quarterfinals matchup with the Logan Grizzlies.
Then, with about 15 minutes remaining in the game, everything changed.
Parry, who prior to Thursday had netted just two goals all year, was on the receiving end of a through pass from Heaton.
Somehow, the senior managed to turn that through pass into a game-tying goal.
“Walker sent a nice ball right through the middle,” said Parry. “I just one-touched it, with a defender on my back. Luckily, it went past the goalie to the back post. I was so happy, I really couldn’t do anything.”
He wasn’t the only one.
The entire Thunder team, as well as their vocal following, were immediately energized.
“Everyone’s spirits just skyrocketed right there,” said Parry. “Your spirits have to be high to beat a good team and we definitely pulled it together after that.”
Moments later, Simister netted his goal, capping off a stunning rally.
“I played it to Walker and he laid it off to me,” Simister said of the buildup to his goal. “I tapped it by a guy and then I had time. I just made sure I took a good shot and it went in. It felt so good.”
“I was on the bench (when Ben scored) and I was just so happy for him,” added Parry. “At that moment we knew we had this. We just had to hold on.”
The Thunder did just that, barely, as the Bruins had a few excellent scoring chances in the final minutes, including a shot by Jackson McBride that somehow missed the top right corner of the goal.
“I am just proud of the boys for not giving up,” said Nelson. “We are excited to move forward now.”