HERRIMAN — “We ran into a bit of a buzzsaw today.”
The words of Mountain Crest head coach Mike Gurney rang as true as could be following his side’s 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Desert Hills Thunder in the semifinals of the 4A Boys State Soccer Championships.
The Mustangs were trying to catch lighting in a bottle as a three seed in the tournament. They won two road games to reach the penultimate round over two seed Orem and one seed Park City. The Thunder (18-2-1) were just on another level in terms of a challenge.
Desert Hills came into the game boasting one of the best attacking duos in 4A and even the state overall in Sawyer Heaton and Ben Simster. The pair combined for 31 goals and 36 assists in the regular season.
“What do you say about those guys? They know what they’re doing. They’re studs,” Gurney said. “You can’t stop them. You just have to hope you can contain them and limit their chances. They’re so good, they’re so fast and they’re very good the way they play, and they’re going to have their chances.”
Simster didn’t end up scoring, but did involve himself in the final attack plenty. Heaton, on the other hand, notched a hat trick. He recorded the opening two goals of the game, the first coming less than three minutes into the contest.
Those two goals, and another later on in the half by Garrett Lewis put Mountain Crest into a 3-0 hole, and though the Mustangs drew one back by halftime — a goal by Chase Oakey — scoring three or four more goals to win outright wasn’t something Gurney wanted to see his team have to do.
“I felt like this was a game we couldn’t give up more than two goals in the game to have a chance,” Gurney said.
Mountain Crest certainly didn’t give up or lay down in the second half. A 3-1 deficit is hard to overcome, but not a death sentence and both Gurney and his side knew it. The problem came from the necessity to throw numbers forward to force the issue, leaving a defense that gave up three first-half goals more vulnerable to an already devastating counter attack. And when the goals didn’t come for Mountain Crest, that necessary risk at the back took its toll in the form of two second-half goals by the defending state champions.
“It’s just really hard to keep the pressure on when they are so fast in the counter attack,” Gurney said. “When you’re trying to press up high, they can counter attack and it’s a fine line. So they got those last two goals when we were trying to equalize and pull one back and give ourselves a chance.”
Despite going down in their final game, the Mustangs (10-9-1) were able to hold their heads high on the way out of the stadium, knowing that few expected the squad to make it as far as the semis.
“I am very, very proud of these guys,” Gurney said. “This was an amazing run and an amazing season. These guys came to practice every day and they just wanted to work, and they were willing to do everything for us. They bought into the system and it paid dividends in the postseason run.”