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MISSOULA — When the whistle blew for a foul in the penalty area during the 44th minute of Missoula Hellgate’s 2-1 Class AA state championship win over Bozeman, Dane Becker was already running through various scenarios in his head.

The Knight senior midfielder, a captain, and a player who head coach Jay Anderson calls one of the best leaders he has ever coached knew he was going to take the free kick.

He had practiced a penalty kick upwards of 50 times in the days leading up to the state championship at Fort Missoula Regional Park with his keepers, Ben Vetter and Brendan Oberg.

There were no nerves. For a brief moment, the only two people on the field were Becker and Bozeman keeper Nicholas Andrew. The goalie jumped up and grabbed the crossbar several times, then the referee’s whistle blew.

Becker went to his left and sneaked the ball by the Bozeman senior’s lime green padded gloves. The goal ended up being the deciding factor in the game as Hellgate won boys state soccer title number five, which is tied with the Hawks and Kalispell Flathead for the most all-time in Montana history.

“I was trying not to think about it, really … I knew if we got one, I’d be stepping up to take it,” said Becker, who watched as Bozeman beat Hellgate 2-1 in the state championship game a year ago. “I knew I was going left the entire time.”

The Knights celebration would have to wait, however. In the 49th minute Bozeman’s Josef Fields cut the Hellgate lead in a half with a well-placed goal.

Playing well through nearly the entire second half, it was the first of several chances the Hawks would get to mount a comeback after falling into the early 2-0 hole. It was also the only one they were able to convert.

Hellgate vs. Bozeman AA state finals 07

Hellgate's Dane Becker prepares to attempt a penalty kick.

Bozeman got several chances through the next 30 minutes, including over five minutes of stoppage time tacked on to the end of the game. The Hawks managed to get the ball in front of the net in an open goal situation — Oberg had left the net to cut a better angle — but junior midfielder Jonah Teasdale cleared the ball.

In perhaps the Hawks' best chance to equalize, a well-executed set piece corner kick got the ball inside, but a shot bounced off the post and was reeled in by Oberg.

“We knew we just had to be aware of what they were doing,” Anderson said. “We couldn’t tune out. They were dangerous, for sure, and one cleared off the line, a point blank save by the keeper, they were right there too, they played a helluva game.”

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Hellgate vs. Bozeman AA state finals 17

Bozeman's Josef Fields (21) tries to maintain possession against Hellgate's Oliver Berkey (15).

But Hellgate did too.

Beckett Arthur was brilliant from his midfield spot, chasing down loose balls and muscling his way to wins in 50/50 situations. It was a physical game — the teams finished with 28 combined fouls and four yellow cards — and Arthur’s 6-foot-2 frame helped matters immensely.

He also had a few important clearances in the ultimately clean game, but was at wits end over the final few minutes of the game. Playing every minute, he had spent plenty of time on the field.

“I was like, I was really about to get on my knees and stop because I was so frustrated,” Arthur said. “But, I know, we got very lucky a few times, but, I don’t know, that’s all I can say.”

Junior Hellgate forward Reggie Duce got things going for the Hawks in the first half with a 17th minute goal on a counter that he took from near midfield.

Throughout the postseason, Anderson has been adamant he wants to see his players come out strong and, once again, they did. Bozeman did come tough out of the gates, but was not able to put away some of the chances it had.

Oberg was a part of this, finishing with six saves. Andrew had eight for Bozeman, which finished with eight shots. The Knights owned a 6-2 edge in corner kicks and took 14 shots.

“I mean the way we were knocking around, we were giving ourselves chances,” Bozeman head coach Hunter Terry said. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to put the ball in the back of the net. You don’t get points for passes.”

It is the fifth state title as Hellgate’s skipper for Jay Anderson, who has led the Knights to the state title game in six consecutive seasons. It’s also Hellgate’s fourth title in five years, a feat that has never been matched by a boys team at the Class AA level.

“It was good soccer at times, physical at times, it was emotional a lot of times too,” Anderson said. ”It kinda had everything.”

In the Class AA girls championship, Billings West downed Billings Skyview 1-0.

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Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com

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