SANDY — There's no question Desert Hills was riding a wave of momentum, having exploded for nine goals in back-to-back convincing wins over Logan and Mountain Crest.
To their credit, the Bobcats were undaunted by an opponent that had poured in 68 goals in its previous 20 matches during the 2019 campaign. Instead, the Bobcats put together one of their best performances of the season and made sure the Thunder didn't complete their conquest of Cache Valley.
Tate Thurston crashed the back post for a rebound goal in the 64th minute, and Sky View knocked off defending champion Desert Hills 1-0 in the title match of the 4A Boys State Soccer Championships on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"It was amazing," SV senior defender Cole Finlinson said of beating the team that dispatched of his rivals from Cache Valley. "I'm glad that their confidence got built up a little bit, so we could come back and counter that, but it feels amazing to represent the valley in that way, for sure."
It was a magical end to the season for the Bobcats, who capped off a 13-match unbeaten streak by terminating Desert Hills' 13-game winning streak. In the process, Sky View captured its third state championship in program history and the first since 2004.
"It means a lot," SV head coach Jorge Cruz said. "I've known these kids for four or five years now, and the relationship that we've been building, it's (special). These kids are like my own kids and they know it. They can count on me any time. I'm just really happy to send them off this way."
It was another outstanding effort from a Bobcat backline that didn't concede a goal in its final three state tournament games. Additionally, Sky View (12-2-4) became the first team to shut out Desert Hills (17-3-1) this spring. The Thunder netted multiple goals in all but three of their matches before Saturday.
Sky View's back four of Finlinson, Hunter Smith, Taylor Hobbs and Davis Hall held firm against a dangerous Desert Hills attack — one highlighted by two talented players who combined for 34 goals this season — and goalkeeper Mailik Horman commanded his box really well en route to his eighth clean sheet of the season. Horman finished with seven saves in the match.
"Honestly, I have so much confidence in my guys," said Finlinson, whose side did a superb job of handling the dangerous long throw-ins of Stockton Jones. "I knew we could hold them (off the scoreboard). I knew we could hold any team, it's just whether we can put some goals in the back of the net. I mean, we have such good chemistry right there. We always have each other's backs when we're back there, for sure."
The Bobcats got off to a little bit of a slow start in the second half, but stellar midfielder Ty Erickson was instrumental in turning the tide in the favor of the Region 12 champs. The senior facilitated a couple of great opportunities in the attack — the first when he dispossessed a Thunder player and slotted a slick 40-or-so-yard through ball to Jonathan Bergeson — helping the Bobcats wrestle control of the match.
"Yeah, I feel like I had a good game today," Erickson said. "I don't know what it was, but being in this stadium and fulfilling the dream and the fact that is was the last game of my career, I just knew I wanted to leave everything I had out here on the field."
Erickson, who used his top-notch work rate to fluster the Thunder at times, was also phenomenal in the first half as he missed finding the back of the net twice by a matter of inches. No. 4 had Thunder keeper Preston Hodges beat on a shot outside the 18-yard box, but it caromed off the underside of the crossbar.
"If you want to hear about Ty, I love that kid," Cruz said. "If I told that kid, 'let's go play soccer' any day, even if he's tired, he goes and does it. He is the engine of this team, he is the heart of this team and I'm happy to have him."
Sky View finally got the breakdown it was looking for 26 minutes into the second half. Erickson laid a ball off for Hall, who struck a 23-or-so-yard laser that forced a difficult save from Hodges. However, the rebound went right to a charging Thurston, who finished into an open net, setting off a raucous Bobcat celebration by the corner flag.
Thurston, Cole Thedell and Hall were three Bobcat freshman who made a huge impact in the game.
"I have no words, really," said Thurston, who started the season on SV's sophomore squad. "I was just in the right place at the right time. It was just doing what my coach told me to do and it worked out in the end. It was an amazing feeling."
A few minutes after Thurston's goal, the Thunder had a golden opportunity to equalize, but Hall closed quickly to block a 10-yard shot that appeared to be destined for the back of the net. Hall played arguably his best match of the season.
The Bobcats had to survive two other nervy moments, including one where Horman hustled off his line to narrowly beat Desert Hills' Will Schroeder to the ball. Schroeder facilitated a pair of very good scoring chances in the first half for star striker Ben Simister. Horman made a huge reaction save inside the 6-yard box on one of Simister's shots.
Bergeson was his typical dangerous self for the Bobcats as he fired off eight shots and nearly headed in a Caden Penrose cross in the second half. Sky View looked quite at home on Real Salt Lake's expansive pitch.
"There was definitely a lot of running on this field, but for our style of play it worked out perfectly," Erickson said. "We were able to utilize the big field, I think, better than Desert Hills did, and that played a huge factor in the game."
It was the second state championship of the season for Horman, Bergeson and Penrose, who also competed for Sky View's basketball team.