It was all about using their heads Wednesday at Bell Field.
The Aggies did just that twice, and it proved golden for the Utah State soccer team in its 2019 home opener against Weber State. Knotted at 1-1, the game went to overtime, where the Aggies won with a goal in the 103rd minute.
“Gosh. Wow. What a tough game and what a lot of fight the team showed,” USU head coach Heather Cairns said. “To be able to win a game in overtime, there’s no better thrill than to be on that end of it. To be able to fight and get the first goal, to be able to not panic when they tied it up, I think our team is really starting to show what they’re made of. I’m really proud of them for battling the way they did today and fighting to get that W.”
While Weber State (0-4) left still searching for its first win and feeling like a chance got away Wednesday, the Aggies (2-2) let out a sigh of relief. USU stayed composed through some wild stretches.
“We started off slow, and that is something we want to fix,” Cairns said. “I give Weber a lot of credit. ... I give the team good grade for learning throughout the game.”
Both sides got off two shots in the first overtime and had legitimate chances to end the contest. When neither found the back of the net after 10 minutes, the game went to a second OT.
That’s where the Aggies took control. For nearly all of the just less than three minutes of the second overtime, USU dominated.
Kami Warner made a steal and run, but Wildcat goalkeeper Nikki Pittman was able to clear the ball. Then Imelda Williams got off a shot that went straight to Pittman. Seconds later the Aggies had the ball again and were attacking as Paige Moser made a nice crossing pass to Ashley Cardozo, who settled the ball and pinged a shot off the left post that turned into a corner kick.
Cardozo was able to forget about the near winner and lifted a perfect corner kick to Williams, who was waiting by the near post. Williams met the ball with her head and redirected it into the goal for the winner. Then Williams had to brace herself as the Aggies mobbed her in celebration.
“Mel (Williams) posted up on the front post, and Ashley (Cardozo) just bent it perfect right into her head, and she slotted it perfect front post,” Aggie defender Mealii Enos said of the winner.
Enos was on the receiving end of a Kanyan Merrill corner kick in the 52nd minute, but couldn’t find the net on a header. Then 16 minutes later she got another chance, this time from Cardozo on a corner. She netted the first goal for USU and the game on a header in the 68th minute to put the first point on the scoreboard.
“I was mad I didn’t finish the first one (from Merrill),” Enos said. “I really wanted to get the second one in, so I was glad to get another chance.”
“E(nos) is a great specialist in the air,” Cairns said. “We put her forward for corner kicks. She and Mel (Williams) are two great targets.”
Of the five corner kicks the Aggies had, they scored on two and had great opportunities on two others as Cardozo and Merrill put some nice balls into action near the goal.
The Aggies were much more physical on Wednesday, and that was by design. Veteran USU coach Cairns has been stressing that part of the game of late.
“Our strength coach has been working with them since last January, and our girls have gotten stronger in the weight room,” Cairns said. “I think you are seeing that translate on the field. They are more confident using their body and going into tackles.”
Nine minutes after Enos scored, the Wildcats answered. Cache Valley native Lauren McConnell was able to beat USU keeper Diera Walton on a counter attack in the 77th. It was the first goal of the season for Weber State, which came into the match having been blanked by a trio of Pac-12 teams.
USU finished with 13 shots to WSU’s 10. Walton made six saves for the Aggies.
“We’ve talked about having a championship mentality,” Enos said. “And championship teams are able to win in overtime, and that’s what we did today.”
This was the second game-winner of the season for Williams, who had the lone goal late in a contest at South Dakota a week ago.
Notes: It was like a reunion of sorts on the pitch Wednesday as a handful of athletes from both sides are natives of Cache Valley. USU has five players from the valley, while WSU has three. McConnell (Nibley/Mountain Crest) and Sadie Noble (Smithfield/Sky View) started for the Wildcats, while Harlee Turnbow (Wellsville/Mountain Crest) did not see any action. McConnell and Aggie Sidney Barlow (Smithfield/Sky View), who started, were matched up a lot when both were on the field. Also starting for USU was Merrill (Providence/Mountain Crest) and subs Moser (Preston/Preston), Marli Niederhauser (Mendon/Ridgeline) and Sammie Murdock (Providence/Ridgeline), who did not see any time. ... WSU interim head coach Meagan Thunell is a Mountain Crest alum. ... Aggie midfielder Amber Marshall was the lone USU player to play every minute not counting the keeper as she logged 103 minutes. She now has played all 373 minutes the Aggies have been on the pitch. ... USU now leas the all-time series 10-6-1 with the win. It marked the first meeting between the two schools since a 1-0 Weber State win in 2013.