HELENA — Charlie Klepps knows how to win. Just ask 164 of his opponents during his prep wrestling career for Billings Senior High.
And now, add the winning goal in the 19th annual Shodair Soccer Classic to his resume'.
With the score tied at twp-all late in the game between Klepp's East Team and the West, the Bronc standout took a pass from Senior teammate Luke Vondra and broke the tie with the go-ahead goal in the 77th minute.
The East then held on for the 3-2 victory on in 88-degree heat at Carroll College's Nelson Stadium.
It was Klepps' second score of the day, earning him the game's MVP award and a $1,000 scholarship from Shodair Hospital.
"Luke and I have been playing together for about eight years, he lofted the ball over the top and it rattled around between my knees a few times," said Klepps, who was soaked in ice water from head to toe for the postgame interview. "When the defender fell down, I took the shot and snuck it by the keeper."
Klepps is a two-time all-state soccer player, was the Eastern Conference's Player of the Year, and led the AA in scoring this year with 25 goals and 12 assists. But he's even a better wrestler.
A rare four-time state mat champion, the last at 132 pounds in February — although he admits he's "a little heavier" now — he amassed a dazzling career record of 164-18. After shoulder surgery, Klepps will be competing for grappling powerhouse Iowa State next year.
In the back-and-forth contest between two evenly matched teams on Saturday, Konnor May of Heritage Christian put the East on the board first with a score in the 17th minute.
But that lead didn't last long, however, when Helena standout Jackson Keller shook the net less than 60 seconds later to tie things up, with an assist from Micah Reason of Glacier.
Then in the 34th minute, Klepps piped a penalty kick, and the East took a 2-1 advantage into halftime.
Next, at barely 45 seconds after the intermission, Keller passed to Columbia Falls' Noah Ramagnuolo, knotted the score at two-all.
The two teams battled back and forth — although the West appeared to be controlling most of the action — for 26 minutes, until Klepps' game-winner.
"I just learned you have to be patient and keep battling," said Klepps, when asked his mindset about being stymied most of the game by the West's tough defense. "Usually only one or two of your shots go in a game, but if you hit the winner, people remember it."
West coach Ryan Billiet of Glacier lauded the "amazing second effort" of Klepps' final goal.
"I just really enjoyed this event, playing with, and against, these great players from the east and the west, one last time. It was pretty special," Klepps said.
The two teams were fairly even in shots on goal. Some of the East's closer near misses came from Klepps, Ramagnuolo, May, Vondra, Javan Chisholm and Jordan Schlauch of Belgrade, and Laurel's Jose Luis Martinez-Vega.
A few of the West's better attempts were made by Keller, Reason, and Ryan Symmes and Brady Schultz of Glacier.
In goal, the East's Ryan Cornwall (Billings West) made nine saves, including several game-saving, diving stops. West keepers Logan Reiman (GFH) and Dylan Maharg (HHS) collaborated on eight saves.
"With all due respect to Charlie, because he made the winning goal and deserved it, but if they gave two game MVPs, Ryan would've gotten the other one," East coach Kamul Lacosse said.
Billiet said that the East "had the run early," but by his team emphasizing playing possession soccer, they started "generating some opportunities" and had the run of play for awhile.
"This is a fantastic group of young men, getting together for a great cause, and it's been my pleasure to see them off in their last action on the pitch," the Wolfpack skipper said.