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BOUNTIFUL — Pleasant Grove’s boys soccer team had already made history before Tuesday, when it played it in the first UHSAA-sanctioned state semifinal in school history.
Connor Ecalono just made more history.
Ecalono’s second-half goal sent the Vikings to their first-ever state championship with a 1-0 win over Region 4 rival American Fork in a Class 6A state semifinal at Woods Cross.
“I knew this could be a 1-0-type of game, so I knew whoever scored first would most likely win,” Ecalono said. “I felt a sigh of relief, because I knew we would win after I scored.
“I’ve never been happier.”
The Vikings will face Herriman (19-0) in the 6A state championship Thursday at 4:30 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The senior was feeling plenty of pressure, as was his team, with the Vikings playing in their first state semifinal since the school sanctioned boys soccer in 1983. The community showed up two counties to the north for what amounted to a region derby, with alumni proudly sporting their “PG”-laced crests and blue caps.
On top of that, Connor Ecalono was playing in what could have been his last game under his father, Pleasant Grove coach Chris Ecalono.
But the nerves quickly died down in the second half.
“You can’t replicate this like high school (soccer),” coach Ecalono said. “A lot of these guys are (club) state cup winners, but they’ve never played in this type of environment. The fans are driving up here, the parents, the grandparents, alumni, and the first time in school history to make this game.
“They didn’t want to make a mistake … but once we got over that, we jelled and played a lot better in the second half.”
Tyler Ashby nearly bagged a goal in the first 20 minutes of the match for Pleasant Grove (15-3-2), but the Cavemen (6-8-5) did well to clear his shot off the line in the 19th minute en route to a scoreless draw at halftime.
That’s when things changed, the tenured Pleasant Grove head coach said.
“In the first half, we played too defensive. We played not to lose, instead of to win,” Chris Ecalono said.
“We regrouped in the second half, played our game, moved the ball and created a lot more chances on the left-hand side.”
One of those chances belonged to Connor Ecalono, who settled a short pass across the edge of the 18-yard box and ripped a shot off his right foot that tucked inside the far post.
It was the type of ball that Ecalono felt was good as soon as it left his foot.
“I just shot it and it went right where I wanted it to go,” he said. “I knew I struck it well, and I’m just glad it went in.”
The moment was special for Connor, but also coach Chris Ecalono—who admitted to pulling his son off the field temporarily for the first time all season.
“He was stressed out,” coach Ecalono said of Connor. “He’s going to Utah State next year, playing with his brother, for his dad. But I told him to just chill, relax, play your game and be a captain.
“Nobody wants to win more than he does. He was going to do anything to make a play.”
That's a Wiiiiiin! Herriman over Bingham 1-0 in overtime pic.twitter.com/eEQiZIoY3B— Herriman High (@OfficialMustang) May 23, 2018
Herriman 1, Bingham 0
At Woods Cross, Carter Johnson scored the golden goal in the first overtime to lead the reigning champion Mustangs into Thursday's state final.
Both sides were scoreless after 80 minutes of regulation, plus a half-hour delay for lightning that stretched late into Tuesday night.