WHITEFISH — After missing the 2017 championship game, Xander Burger seized the moment in his final game in a Bulldogs’ uniform.
The senior captain scored five goals — in front of hundreds of fans and onlookers — as Whitefish rolled over Polson 6-2 in the State A boys soccer championship match on Saturday at Smith Fields.
The Bulldogs finished the season undefeated with a 15-0-1 record, the lone blemish a regular-season draw at Polson.
“I’m feeling ecstatic. It feels great, especially after last year,” Burger said, when a concussion forced him to miss Whitefish’s championship defeat to Belgrade.
“I could not imagine a better way to go out.”
“That’s outstanding no matter when it happens,” Whitefish coach John Lacey said, “especially when it’s your last game as a high school player and in the state championship. That’s just outstanding. I’m so proud of him.”
The third meeting between the Bulldogs and Pirates looked to be a goalfest from the start, as both teams came out aggressively and looking to attack. Whitefish had multiple opportunities in front of the net, but Pirates’ senior forward Robin Erickson offered the first real threat of the game. In the 23rd minute, Erickson fired a shot from 18 yards out that forced Whitefish goalkeeper Colter Upton to make a tremendous save.
The Bulldogs finally found the net in the 27th minute when Burger scored from close range on a well-placed shot from a tricky angle. Junior Ian Lacey notched the assist.
Three minutes later, junior Casey Schneider — the Bulldogs’ leading scorer this season — played a perfect cross that found Burger sprinting into the penalty box. Burger blasted the ball into the net to make it 2-0.
The Pirates answered in the 33rd minute on an excellent strike by senior Nico River. He received the ball near the top of the penalty area, and after setting himself up for a shot he placed the ball into the left corner of the goal, just out of reach of Upton.
Burger struck again just a minute after halftime. A Polson defender deflected Schneider’s pass from the end line, but Burger followed the ball and poked it into the net.
Class A’s leading scorer, senior Mack Moderie, did all he could to keep the Pirates in the match. In the 44th minute, he outran the Bulldogs’ back line to receive a pass and fired a shot from close range. Upton saved the shot, but Erickson was there for the rebound to make it 3-2.
But a penalty kick in the 58th minute shifted momentum back to the Bulldogs. The officials awarded the penalty after Whitefish sophomore Joshua Gunderson was tackled in the box, and Ian Lacey buried the penalty shot.
“I thought the penalty was the deciding moment of the game,” Polson coach Adam Fansher said.
“That really turned around the game, we had to put some extra numbers forward to try and get back in it ... and we struggled chasing the game.”
Already with a hat trick, Burger put the game out of reach with his fourth and fifth goals; a left-footed strike from the top of the penalty box in the 71st minute, and a shot in the 76th minute from the left side of the box beyond the outstretched arms of Polson’s freshman goalkeeper Kaden Nelson.
Billings Central wins girls title
Maggie Lyle made two saves in a penalty-kick shootout and Annika Varga scored the clinching goal as Billings Central reclaimed the Class A girls soccer championship with a victory over defending champion Laurel Saturday at Wendy's Field at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
Morgan Ferestad and Zoie Althoff also converted their PKs, which ended after just three attempts because of the Rams' 3-0 lead.
The game ended 0-0 in regulation and overtime as both Lyle and Laurel keeper Mya Hansen were stellar in goal when called upon.
The Rams are state champs for the third time in the last four years and they've won nine of the last 11 titles.
Laurel, playing in its fifth consecutive state championship match, was trying to win its third title in the last five seasons.
The Rams and Locomotives have combined to win the last 11 Class A titles.