For two teams that had already squared off three times in the regular season, the prospect of a state title tilt between the pair seemed predictable.
Sun Valley Community School had beaten Bliss all three times, and were poised to do it again. The battle that ensued was little like the Cutthroats’ three dominating victories before it, though.
Bliss, which had made a return to the 3A state title game after falling short against Weiser in 2017, had a much different look. A chunk of its senior class had moved on, but the team continued to surprise those who thought the Bears wouldn’t be able to get as far as they did.
The Cutthroats, meanwhile, are a constant in and around the state tournament, but hadn’t had a triumph since 1999. Led by a squad of few seniors, it was a young, but talented team that had cruised through the regular season with only two losses.
I had been to the closest game the two teams had played all year, a 1-0 Cutthroats win in Sun Valley for the conference title. While the score was 1-0, the Cutthroats had a plethora of chances, as the Bears were content sitting back in defense and trying to strike on the counter.
Bliss defended quite well, and the lone blemish was a fantastic finish from junior Ridley Lindstrom, so the visitors’ strategy largely held up, but it showed that, in most instances, SVCS would be the team controlling the game.
The state championship battle between the two teams started out much differently. Bliss tried its best to create chances in the opening stages, and did so to great effect. Early on, senior striker Steven Rubio tested SVCS keeper Meeks Sanchez-duPont a couple times.
Finally, in the 14th minute, Rubio broke through in magnificent fashion.
At a distance from which few players would even consider having a go at goal, Rubio unleashed an unstoppable free kick that flew by Sanchez-duPont and into the top corner. Having been dominated in three previous attempts to conquer the Cutthroats, the Bears were suddenly in the driver’s seat.
Soon, though, that would change. With about 12 minutes to go until halftime, a pass reached the feet of SVCS junior Cash Dart. He failed to corral it, but it bounced around in the box until Lindstrom latched onto it, dribbled past a Bliss defender and slotted it across goal for an equalizer.
Four minutes later, a cross into the box found Dart, whose scuffed shot managed to beat the Bliss goalkeeper. In what felt like no time, the Cutthroats had turned the contest around entirely, showing the ability to control games that they’d demonstrated in the previous meetings against the Bears.
From there, it was a true battle. SVCS began to dominate possession, but Bliss actually had the better of the chances in the second half. The Bears would absorb the Cutthroats’ attack, then launch balls long for Rubio to chase and work his magic with. The senior had a few chances, but none were to clear-cut, and he wasn’t able to recreate the magic of his opening score.
Eventually, the Bears could no longer take what the Cutthroats were throwing at them. With six minutes remaining, Lindstrom capitalized at a mistake from the Bliss back line and scored again in a one-on-one with the Bears’ keeper, putting the score at 3-1 and putting the contest out of Bliss’ reach.
SVCS head coach Richard Whitelaw beamed with pride, having captured his first state title in nearly 20 years. His team, light on seniors, had received particularly impressive performances from its two senior captains, Peter Morawitz and Henry Cherp. Both could hardly contain the excitement of ending their careers on the high note of a state championship.
“It can’t be better than this,” Morawitz said.