BILLINGS — The only goal in Saturday’s Class AA state girls soccer title game was poetic.
Billings West’s only senior, Jillian Hust, fired a cross to Chloe Davies, one of 10 sophomores on the roster. Davies snuck a shot into the bottom right corner of the goal in the first minute of the second half against crosstown rival Billings Skyview.
Hust and a host of juniors, sophomores and freshmen held off the defending state champion Falcons over the final 39 minutes on Saturday night in front of hundreds of fans at Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium. The Golden Bears (10-3-3) captured their first state title since 2010.
“No one thought we’d make it this far with this young of a team,” Hust said. “We did it.”
Before Saturday, Hust spent her whole career falling short of a state championship. The Bears lost to Helena Capital 2-1 in the 2016 State AA semifinals and took fourth place. A year later, they went two-and-out at state. Last year, West to returned the semifinals. Skyview made the Bears settle for third place with a 1-0 win in extra time.
A breakthrough this fall did not always look likely. The Falcons’ 2019 roster featured six seniors, including Jordan Roe, who delivered the extra time dagger in the 2018 semifinal win over West. They beat the Bears 2-0 in the first matchup of the season.
West, which started the season 3-3-0, got revenge a month later with a 3-2 win, proving to Hust that her team could beat anyone.
The Bears began the State AA playoffs with a 1-0 victory over Belgrade. To reach the title game, they needed 2-1 wins at Missoula Hellgate and Kalispell Glacier.
It only made sense that West would experience some stress on Saturday.
Neither team generated many chances in the first half, and the Bears only had one close shot after Davies’ goal. West junior keeper Kendell Ellis made the toughest stop of the first half on a long attempt from freshman Charlize Davis, and Skyview peppered the goal throughout the final 40 minutes.
In the 65th minute, Roe received a cross and fired a shot off the crossbar. The ball ricocheted back to her, and she passed to sophomore Sydney Robbins, who chipped a shot that narrowly sailed over the crossbar.
With less than five minutes to go, a Skyview player fired a perfect free kick to Roe, who headed the ball toward the bottom left corner of the goal. Ellis made a one-handed diving stop to set up a corner kick, which Skyview didn’t convert.
“It happened all of the sudden, just reaction for sure. Just a scramble,” Ellis said of her save.
The Falcons got one other good look, and Ellis made another save, albeit a much easier one.
Davies was on the Bears’ bench when the final whistle blew. She and her teammates stormed onto the field to form a mass hug with the other 11.
“When that whistle blows, it’s just the best feeling ever,” Davies said. “It’s surreal. It’s indescribable.”
Shortly after the match, Hust held the first-place trophy and posed for individual photos with each of her teammates. Tears started to stream down her cheeks.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “I finished it off with a bang.”
The Falcons went 15-0-0 last season en route to their first title in program history. They finished this season with a 10-2-3 record. Both losses were to West.
Skyview fourth-year coach Cameron Icenoggle expressed a bittersweet feeling, as well. The Falcons weren’t thinking about last year’s perfect season in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s loss, he said, but he thanked his players for a great few years. His gratitude was aimed directly at the first group of seniors he’s coached at Skyview.
“Just to see them for four years and watch them grow up, it’s been an amazing journey,” Icenoggle said. “That’s what we’ll remember, is the journeys and the rides. I think one day we’ll look back on this season more fondly than we do now.”
West’s 2010 state title was its second ever and the second of two straight. This year’s Bears were happy to speculate about going back-to-back again next season.
But they made sure to soak up the joy of Saturday’s win.
“We’ve worked our butts off for this,” Ellis said. “We shoveled snow off the field in freezing weather. We practiced in everything. We’re a family. We go through everything together.
“It’s just amazing.”