HILLSBORO — Senior dominated and loaded with confidence, the Grizzlies had plenty of reasons to believe that maybe, they were a team of destiny.
Not this year.
Churchill scored a clutch equalizer 27 seconds before halftime then added two more goals in the second half to wrap up a 3-1 victory over Ashland in the OSAA Class 5A boys soccer state championship game Saturday at Liberty High School.
Senior forward Michael Wurszt used a juke in the box to break a 1-1 tie in the 62nd minute and senior midfielder Ian Salisbury added an insurance goal in the 69th as the fourth-ranked Lancers (17-2) overcame an early deficit to clinch the first state title in program history.
The third-ranked Grizzlies (15-2-1), also making their first-ever championship game appearance, went into desperation mode after Salisbury's strike and managed to produce three solid scoring opportunities, but two shots just missed and the third, a 10-yard boot by Adam Pavlich, was saved by Churchill keeper Peter McMillan.
"Some breaks went their way and they created some breaks and "¦ that's what this final game is about," Ashland head coach Brad Roupp said. "We came out in the second half and attacked strong, and I thought we put a lot of good opportunities up but sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't. Today, (Churchill) made it happen. Last time we played them in club ball we beat them. Here today, they got us. You never know."
Churchill fans counted down the final 10 seconds and as the horn sounded the Lancers piled on top of each other at the 40-yard line. The Grizzlies walked slowly back to the sideline. Some sat down on the turf, dejected and exhausted after suffering their first loss since Sept. 9. Former Ashland soccer coach Eisa Tiaa Tutu hugged Ashland senior keeper Wes Overland, who had seven saves, including one off a penalty kick.
That lunging block of a Spencer Treffry laser seemed to give the Grizzlies a momentum boost and they immediately pushed the ball back into scoring position. Ashland senior midfielder Nate Roupp ended up with a 30-yard direct kick in the 65th minute that was similar to the one he scored on less than two minutes into the game. But this time his rocket was saved by McMillan, who had to jump and stretch to his left to keep Churchill in front.
Salisbury scored off an assist by senior midfielder T.J. Prentice four minutes later and that was that.
"The key to this game: conditioning," Churchill head coach Dave Peterson said. "We could see they were tired, so we made the ball do the work and I think that's where we got the upper hand."
The loss finished the most successful season in Ashland history — a run that included an overtime win over North Eugene in the quarterfinals and a second-half comeback to beat Sherwood in the semis.
"Ashland's never been this far, so some of us may have been disappointed, but when we look back on it, we had the building blocks and we got here and that was what we wanted to do from the start," said Ashland forward Simon Linsday, one of nine seniors who will graduate off the Grizzlies' roster. "We just walked off the field knowing that everyone played their best and we had the best run that Ashland has ever had."
Ashland took a 1-0 lead at the 1:51 mark of the first half when Roupp fired home a direct kick that bounced into the left side of the net past a diving McMillan. The Grizzlies kept the pressure on immediately following that quick strike, but one shot 15 yards in front of the goal was saved and another was high and wide.
Churchill's defense clamped down after that, holding the Grizzlies to two more shots the rest of the half. It was a sign of things to come. The Lancers, who scored 12 goals in four playoff games, out-shot Ashland 18-11 for the game, including 10-6 on goal.
Ashland planned to contain Churchill's dangerous forwards by grouping defenders. The Grizzlies managed to do that for almost the entire first half, but with the clock winding down the Lancers finally broke through when Salisbury delivered a perfect cross from 25 yards out to Prentice, who headed the ball into the right-top corner of the net from about six yards out.
"They scouted us really well, so they knew what we were going to do," Ashland senior defender Mattias Fitzpatrick said. "They knew how we play the game and they totally capitalized on that with their defense."
Fitzpatrick said scoring early had negative side effects for the Grizzlies.
"We kind of bunkered down and they just kept pounding on us, so we couldn't get the ball into an attack."
Nate Roupp agreed.
"We went back protecting the lead instead of trying to get more," he said, "and that's not our game. We just fell into a different kind of game that we don't normally play. They just came at us and we didn't know how to respond to that."
Roupp and Salisbury were the Qwest Players of the Game.
Salisbury uncorked a team-high six shots, including four on goal. Each of Roupp's three shots were on goal.
Pavlich also was busy for Ashland, shooting six times, including two on goal.
The loss was Ashland's first against a 5A opponent. The Grizzlies' only other loss came at the hands of South Medford, a 6A powerhouse.
The Grizzlies entered the match on an 11-game winning streak.
"My hats off to Ashland," Churchill head coach Dave Peterson said. "Ashland had a mirror season to Churchill, a fantastic run. If there was a team that I hated to beat, Ashland was the team. Great bunch of guys, fantastic coach.
"Somebody had to lose today, and I was happy to see that our boys could come back when we were down one."
Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or email@example.com