GREAT FALLS - Ty Schmechel and his Billings West teammates had been dreaming about a state soccer championship for a long time.
On Saturday, their dream came true.
West captured the first boys title in school history with a 2-1 victory over Helena in the final round of the State AA soccer tournament at Siebel Soccer Park.
When the final whistle blew, it set off a celebration five years in the making.
"We'd been talking about this since eighth grade," Schmechel said amid the post game revelry. "We'd talk about what the lineups would be, who'd be there, how we'd win …
"Back then it came down to a shootout and the final shot, but I don't think I could ask for much more than this."
Alex Gallagher and Zach Moyers each scored goals and the Bears' stingy defense was stout down the stretch as the Bears won for the 14th time this season.
"I don't know how to explain it," said Gallagher, who scored the team's first goal in the 28th minute. "As a team we played hard. We worked hard this whole season and we pulled it off this year. We pulled it off together."
All year, defense was the name of the game for West. The Bears came into the tournament having surrendered just two goals in the regular season.
The trend continued throughout the weekend. West gave up one goal in each of its three tournament games.
"Our defense is fantastic, and it has been for a lot of years now," said midfielder Jack Pueringer. "We let in a few goals at state, but as long as we outscore the opponent, it's OK. We'll take the win."
Entering the season, West knew it had to assert itself on offense more than it had in previous years if it were to have a shot at winning a championship.
The Bears followed suit by scoring a state-high 46 goals in the regular season, then followed it up with 10 goals in three state tournament matches.
A year prior, West scored just two goals in four matches at state.
But no matter how many times the Bears found the back of their opponent's net, the winning formula was obvious.
"Again, I think it came down to our team defending," said West coach Kevin Luse. "We didn't give (Helena) anything until the end. Really, I have so much confidence in this team when it comes to defending because they do it together.
"I'm so proud. These guys totally earned it. We treated these past three days as a season. Thursday was the first day of the season against Sentinel, and we came out and got a hard-fought win. And (Friday) we just clicked against a really good team in Skyview. And then today was the third day of our season, and we knew we had a job to do."
Helena was held in check for the duration of the game, save for a quick-strike goal with just two minutes remaining by forward Stewart Miller that created the one-goal difference.
The Bengals, which beat cross-town rival Helena Capital 2-1 in a shootout on Friday, knew it had to play mistake-free soccer in order to win.
It didn't happen.
"We played sort of a bend-but-not-break style of defense," said Helena coach Carl Straub. "When you do that against a quality opponent you have to be consistent and solid and you can't make any mistakes and errors. Unfortunately we made a couple mistakes and errors."
West became the first Eastern AA team to win the title since Billings Senior in 2004. The Bears also became the only local AA squad to win the first-place trophy other than the Broncs since soccer was instituted as an MHSA sanctioned sport in 1995.
"We weren't just playing for our school, but this gives the Eastern conference a little more respect," Luse said. "So this means a whole lot to everybody."
Billings West 2, Helena High 1
West (14-0-1) - 1, Alex Gallagher (Zach Moyers), 28:00. 2, Moyers, 41:00.
Helena (8-4-4) - 1, Stewart Miller, 80:00.
Halftime: West 1, Helena 0.