I knew it was going to be a 1-0 game. I knew whoever scored that first goal was going to win. I just pressured their defender, shot it and it went right where I wanted it to go. —Pleasant Grove's Connor Ecalono
WOODS CROSS — Pleasant Grove High School has had its share of successful teams over the years, across more than a few sports, but the boys soccer team has never, or rarely, been considered one.
That is until now.
This year, the Vikings won their first region title since the early ’90s, edging out Bingham, American Fork, Westlake and Lone Peak for the Region 4 title.
Pleasant Grove also made its first deep run in the state tournament, a run that continued into the 6A state semifinals Tuesday afternoon at Woods Cross High School.
It was there that the Vikings took on American Fork for the fourth time this season. On this occasion, a berth in the state championship was on the line.
Just like in each of the three previous meetings, games Pleasant Grove took by a combined score of 7-3, the Vikings defeated American Fork.
It wasn’t easy, but after 71 scoreless minutes Viking senior Connor Ecalono netted the game’s only goal to give Pleasant Grove a 1-0 victory.
“I knew it was going to be a 1-0 game,” Ecalono said. “I knew whoever scored that first goal was going to win. I just pressured their defender, shot it and it went right where I wanted it to go.”
That ball proved the difference in a victory that meant a little something extra for the Vikings.
“Words can’t describe it,” said Pleasant Grove head coach Chris Ecalono. “It means a lot to the school, a lot to the community and a lot to the program. It means a lot to the boys, to be able to make history. To do something our school has never done. It feels unbelievable.”
The opportunity to make history weighed heavily on Pleasant Grove throughout the contest, early on to negative effect.
The Vikings were tight, argumentative and flustered for much of the first half, caught up in the emotions of the game.
“This was our first time, for all of us, getting this far (in the state tournament),” the younger Ecalono said. “We definitely had a lot of nerves.”
“A lot of these guys are state cup winners, but they have never played in a high school environment like this,” coach Ecalono added. “The fans are here, their parents, their grandparents and alumni are here. I think they just didn’t want to make mistakes.”
As the first half wore on, the Vikings began to look themselves, and the second half brought with it an entirely different Pleasant Grove team.
The top-seeded Vikings began to create scoring chances, led by James Bichon, who sent multiple shots at Cavemen keeper Kai Abo.
“In the first half we played too defensive. We played not to lose, instead of to win,” said coach Ecalono. “In the second half we did what we do. We created a lot and we played to win.”
Pleasant Grove also dialed up the pressure on the American Fork defense in the second half, a decision that proved the deciding factor in the game.
“Our mentality throughout the game was to pressure them,” Connor Ecalono said.
“That was the game plan,” coach Ecalono added. “If they were going to play Mumford up high (an adjustment Pleasant Grove anticipated heading into the contest) we were going to pressure the heck out of their back line. That was what caused the goal.
“Connor created and scored the goal. He made the play. Nobody wants to win like he does. He really is going to do anything to make a play. I am proud of him.”
The Vikings will have one additional opportunity to make history Thursday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium, when they take on the undefeated Herriman Mustangs for the 6A state championship.