On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Greeley, Colorado at Jackson Stadium, the NAU Lumberjacks took on the Northern Colorado Bears in a huge Big Sky showdown. This is the first of two meetings between the two schools over the next three days to determine who leads the Big Sky Southeast division heading into the final week before the Big Sky Tournament. With NAU playing in their last series before the tournament, they missed their chance to get a leg up on UNC as the two teams drew 2-2 after a late equalizer from UNC forced overtime.
The game started out with both teams figuring each other out and attempting to breach their backlines. NAU eventually controlled possession throughout the entire first half and created many chances to break through UNC junior goalkeeper Ashley Franza, but could not convert their shots into goals. NAU outshot the Bears 8-1 with a 5-1 difference for shots on goal. Franza would hold strong as she saved all five shots she faced. These two Big Sky undefeated teams headed into halftime scoreless.
In the second half, the attacks of both teams picked up dramatically. In the 52nd minute, junior defender Madison Montgomery smashed her line-drive shot past Franza, and despite Franza getting a hand on the shot, it reached the back of the net to give NAU a 1-0 lead.
The sense of urgency heightened for the Bears as they began to control possession, forcing senior NAU goalkeeper Taryn Benham to make a multitude of saves to keep NAU in the lead. In the 69th minute, Benham made a spectacular acrobatic save on UNC junior forward Lexi Pulley’s left-footed curler to keep UNC off the scoresheet.
Montgomery, after picking up her seventh goal of the season earlier in the half, picked up her eighth goal of the season and her third brace in the 79th minute as freshman midfielder Giselle Mata placed a perfect pass for Montgomery to tap the ball across the goal line, giving NAU a 2-0 lead.
The Bears responded three minutes later with a goal to cut NAU’s lead in half as junior forward Kalen Niedling’s long-range shot just curled over the hands of Benham into the back of the net. After Benham stopped another chance from Niedling, UNC had one last chance to equalize and force overtime with 20 seconds left.
Senior defender Maddie Barkow flipped a long pass into the penalty box that set up Pulley with an open shot in front of Benham. She placed the shot past Benham to give UNC a last-gasp equalizer to force overtime in Greeley. UNC made the most of their chances to keep the game alive in the second half, outshooting NAU 10-4.
In overtime, neither team was able to get the winning goal in either period. UNC had the best chance as senior midfielder Taylor Bray’s left-footed shot went wide left on the counterattack, just barely missing the net. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, meaning both teams are still unbeaten in Big Sky play heading into Monday’s pivotal game that will have huge implications on seeding in the Big Sky Tournament.
The rematch between these two teams will take place at Greeley, Colorado on Monday at 11 a.m. MST and can be viewed on Pluto TV.