Crazy game. Heart of lions out there. We told them to keep fighting and have faith in what we do, and they did. They really did, and you saw that. —Alta head coach Lee Mitchell
WOODS CROSS — With just 26 minutes remaining in Tuesday afternoon's 5A semifinal contest between the Alta Hawks and the Skyline Eagles, held at Woods Cross High School, the defending champion Hawks were in trouble.
Despite an early first-half goal by senior Josh Affleck, Alta trailed Skyline 3-1, with hope of a return visit to Rio Tinto Stadium hanging by the proverbial thread.
“It is tough going down 3-1,” Affleck said. “That is never a position you want to be in.”
“Skyline is a super good team,” added Alta head coach Lee Mitchell. “To give them a two goal advantage. ”
The Hawks were not to be denied a chance to defend their state title, however. Led by Affleck, as well as forward Kenny Kocherscheidt, they rallied to defeat the Eagles 4-3.
Kocherscheidt kicked off the rally with a converted penalty kick in the 54th minute, while Affleck netted two additional scores, both headers, including the game-winner with just three minutes left in the game.
“Crazy game,” said Mitchell. “Heart of lions out there. We told them to keep fighting and have faith in what we do, and they did. They really did, and you saw that.
“We got a little lucky too, but we’ll take what we can get.”
“You just can’t give up,” Affleck added. “It is never over. You have to go until the final whistle.”
At the outset, it seemed that the final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for the Hawks.
Despite an initial surge by Skyline, it was the Hawks who were on the scoreboard first, thanks to Affleck. The senior headed a cross into the back of the net and past Skyline keeper Tommy Jensen in the 24th minute, an exclamation point on a first half that was by and large controlled by Alta.
“They were stepping to the ball a little bit, so I dropped to give myself a good angle,” Affleck said of his header. “I just finished strong.”
Just before the end of the half Skyline got its initial breakthrough, courtesy of Jake Jensen. The captain wound his way through the Alta defense and into the left side of the box before drilling a shot past Alta keeper Traven England into the far right side of the net.
That score knotted the game at one goal apiece, and seemingly promised a close and competitive second half.
At that point, nine minutes into the second period, Skyline seemed well on its way to Rio Tinto.
That is until Affleck, Kocherscheidt and Ethan Bell came through in a big way for Alta.
It was Bell who earned the penalty kick for the Hawks, when he was taken down in the box. From there, all Kocherscheidt needed to do was beat Jensen one-on-one, which he did with a shot straight into the top right corner of the net.
Affleck netted the game-tying goal in the 61st minute, with a header that finished off an Alta corner kick.
His final score, the game-deciding goal, came in the 77th minute, when he was yet again perfectly positioned in the box.
“He has been so remarkable this year,” Mitchell said of Affleck. “He just continues to get things done.”
All that is left now for the Hawks is a state title game, something they are more than familiar with.
“I mean, it is awesome,” said Affleck. “We get to go back to Rio Tinto. That is what we have been pushing for all season. One more game. Now we are in the finals and we just have to give everything we’ve got there.”