MISSOULA — Lars Thorne-Thomsen couldn’t help but take every high five and chest bump that came his way as he ran back toward midfield with a smile on his face and his long hair bouncing behind him Tuesday at Fort Missoula Regional Park.
The Missoula Hellgate senior had just broken a scoreless tie in the final two minutes of the first half against a pesky Kalispell Glacier team that had given the Knights trouble throughout the regular season and most of the first half. He fed the ball to Beckett Arthur, got it chipped back to him as he ran around a defender and then struck the ball with his left foot while sliding to the ground, slotting it from left to right past the charging goalie.
Thorne-Thomsen didn’t know it at the time, but that goal would hold up as the winning score as the Knights’ defense put together an all-around performance in a 1-0 victory that sent them to the State AA boys soccer championship game for the seventh year in a row and the third consecutive time against Bozeman, which beat Missoula Sentinel 2-0 earlier in the day.
“This game showed how we’re always just working hard the whole time and always hustling and trying to get everything we can,” Thorne-Thomsen said. “Our back line has been really working hard. This game just proves we’re really ready for the final. Our offense has always been there, but our back line has risen up in the playoffs, getting a shutout against a really good team like that.”
Hellgate (16-0-1) isn’t used to being challenged, having outscored teams 114-13 in 17 games this season. But the Knights but showed they could pull out a tight game when they needed to under the lights on what was technically a neutral site despite the game being in Missoula.
Glacier made it a nail-biter early on as Hunter Lisowski appeared to score off a corner kick for the Wolfpack in the 23rd minute but it was waived off because of a hand ball.
The Hellgate defense kept Glacier (11-4-2) off the board for 80 minutes as they pitched a shutout for the seventh time this season and second time in three playoff games. Goalkeeper Loren Deskins, who missed time with an injury early in the season, made a handful of saves, including a leaping save on what looked like a possible goal on a free kick from near midfield in the final five minutes.
It’s the second year in a row that Hellgate has knocked out Glacier in the semifinals. The Knights notched a 3-0 victory last season and may have matched that this year but had two shots go off post.
The victory this time sends the Knights to the state title game for the seventh year in a row and ninth time in the past 12 seasons under 18th-year head coach Jay Anderson. They’ve won five state crowns in that stretch, including four of the past five titles in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019, topping Bozeman in 2019 after losing to the Hawks in 2018.
“Glacier came in with sheer determination and took it to us in the first half,” Anderson said. “I was much happier with our effort in the second half, winning the clearances, winning the headers. We knew they were going to go big and go direct. I was really happy that we were a little bit more checked in and on point on that.”
Glacier was unable to get past Hellgate in any of their three meetings this year, losing 4-1 and 3-1 during the regular season as the Knights wrapped up their ninth consecutive Western AA title.
Behind goalie John Pyron, the Wolfpack came in having pitched 10 shutouts in 16 games and became the first team to hold Hellgate to fewer than two goals. But they couldn’t muster a goal of their own, appearing to take an early lead but having Hunter Lisowski’s goal in the 23rd minute waived off after a consultation among the refs led to a hand ball call.
The Wolfpack finished the season with a goal differential of plus-53, scoring 69 and allowing 16 goals in 17 games, but eight of those 16 were scored by the Knights. The one that led to Thorne-Thomsen’s celebration proved to be the thorn in their side.
“It’s fun for us in our conference to have the team that’s the standard so we can see during the season what it takes to be there in the end,” Glacier coach Ryan Billiet said. “We continue to work and try to improve, and I thought we did play one of our best defensive games of the season when it mattered most.
“The guys played admirably defensively to keep them off the sheet as much as possible with that front six Hellgate has. That’s probably the best front six I’ve seen in my eight years of AA coaching.”