Forty minutes into the Class A State Title match and the Bulldogs were holding their own defensively with a 0-0 game.
Then the Panthers got hot.
Belgrade netted a two quick goals to jump out to a 2-0 lead in the 48th and 51st minute, and two later goals put them up for the 4-0 win over the Dogs.
Head coach John Lacey said while he’s happy with the way the season went, there was no question his team wanted more out of the title game.
“We were disappointed, we thought we could make a go of it. We certainly wanted to score a goal, and it was disappointing not to do that,” Lacey said. “We’re proud of the season of course, but on that day yeah, we were disappointed. We wanted more.”
Lacey said it wasn’t so much a strategical adjustment but a mental change by Belgrade that opened up the scoring in the second half.
The seniors on that soccer team were in their fourth straight state title match, he said, and that experience showed once they got hot.
“I don’t think the game changed necessarily, they had the better chances in the first half, and they continued to take those chances in the second half,” Lacey said.
“When they got one of them to fall, then that was the one bit of momentum that they really needed.”
The Bulldogs were also shorthanded in the title match, having lost Sam Menicke and Xander Burger in the week before the game. Menicke was suspended after receiving two yellow cards in the semifinal match and Burger suffered a concussion in practice on Thursday.
Menicke had four goals this season and Burger had nine.
“They’re central players, aggressive players that help us on offense and defense both. The guys who stepped in for them did a great job, but there was a reason Sam and Xander had the seasons they did,” Lacey said.
“You’d like to think overall we’d be a stronger team with them in the lineup,” he added.
Whitefish finished the season 10-4-1 with a second-place finish in Class A.
While the team graduates key seniors Noah Romagnuolo, Avery Hirsch, Quinten Joos and Tait Workman, Lacey said he’s looking forward to seeing how the experience his younger players got in the postseason will benefit the program in the next couple years.
“Our younger players got fantastic experience. I think what’s really important is that we weren’t giving them experience because we just felt like we wanted to, they earned that time and they held their own against good players,” Lacey said.
“[The team] handled a lot this fall, and in every way they did it with class and I’m proud of them.”
Whitefish 0 0 — 0
Belgrade 0 4 — 4
B — Jared Rockwell, 48:00
B — Jordan Schlauch, 51:00
B — Josiah Russell, 60:00
B — Jordan Schlauch, 65:00