Lightning strikes: Syracuse boys soccer completes upset run, wins 1st title in school history
SANDY — Early in the second half, Thursday’s 6A boys soccer state championship game was delayed 30 minutes due to lightning passing through the Salt Lake Valley.
When the game resumed with Syracuse High and Skyridge tied 0-0, lightning struck in a different way at America First Field.
Seventy seconds after the restart, Easton Cragun headed in Ryken Hamblin’s cross for the game’s opening goal, followed 39 seconds later by Ryker Smith poking the ball over the keeper for a 2-0 lead.
The goals sparked rapturous celebrations, and the third celebration came at the final whistle when the Titans’ players tore off their jerseys and sprinted over to their fan section to celebrate a 2-0 win over the Falcons, and Syracuse’s first boys soccer state title in school history.
The win completed an upset-filled march through the 6A state tournament that saw No. 12 Syracuse (13-7) take out four of the top six seeds, with No. 6 Skyridge being last in line.
“Overwhelmed, that’s for sure,” Syracuse senior Jack Cook said. “I didn’t think we’d make it to the state championship. Middle of the season when we were .500, I didn’t really have a lot of hope, but Taylor (Allen) rallied us boys and told us the hottest team in May wins, and that’s exactly what we were.”
If anything captured this Syracuse playoff run, it was the phrase “lightning in a bottle.” After an 8-7 regular season, the Titans won five playoff games.
Syracuse, previously owners of a leaky defense, then allowed just three goals in five playoff games. The Titans went 7-1 in the month of May.
“These are a lot of ordinary kids who did pretty extraordinary things, so it’s pretty special,” SHS coach Taylor Allen said.
The late-season turnaround, according to Allen and some of the team’s players, came as a result of Allen shedding a Mr. Nice Guy personality and amping up his coaching.
“Allen hit a little switch, he knew that we needed to be a little more mentally tough when it came down to the close games,” Smith said.
“Yeah, he yelled at us a lot, but it was good for us. We needed a little bump to get going, a little push,” SHS goalkeeper Ty Richardson said.
In the playoffs, Syracuse beat No. 21 Layton, then upset No. 5 Roy, No. 4 Farmington (after being swept in the regular season), then No. 1 Lone Peak and finally, No. 6 Skyridge.
Allen’s first season as Syracuse boys soccer head coach was 2019 when the Titans went 3-12-2.
“This group came in the next year as freshmen, and I remember them telling me — and Jack (Cook) was like 92 pounds, he was so small — they came to team camp that summer and they said, ‘Coach, we’re not here to lose,’ and I’m like, ‘Good, because I hate losing,'” Allen said.
Four years later, they end the season as state champions and have a 38-16 record the last three seasons.
“It’s crazy. I feel amazing to have come this far with the team, it’s truly amazing to win a championship as a high school,” Smith said.
On Thursday, Syracuse and Skyridge played a dull, scoreless first half. Less than two minutes after the second half started, a lightning delay sent everyone inside for 30 minutes.
The Titans did everything but talk about soccer during the lightning delay. They played some games, ate snacks, then scored two quick goals after the restart to take control of the game.
“Just to celebrate with our fans, it was so surreal. It was awesome,” Cook said.
Soccer coaches and commentators alike preach that a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer. If Syracuse could score twice in less than two minutes, so could Skyridge.
The Falcons came close to scoring on a counterattack early in the second half and a curling free kick in the 59th minute. Richardson made a good save shortly after.
On defense, the Titans went to the high pressure that yielded success against Lone Peak and counterattacked when they could.
With about 20 seconds left in the game, Skyridge’s final scoring chance was cleared off the line by Titans defender Landen Merrill.
“It feels amazing. I mean, you’re in Rio Tinto, you get all this, it’s a little intimidating but I just feel like I want to go pop some bottles — of root beer, of course,” Richardson said.
In the aftermath, Allen celebrated maybe more than anyone. It was his final game as the Syracuse head coach; he’s moving into school administration.
“I’m super emotional about not being able to coach these boys anymore. I mean, every day’s been a new emotion. A girl drew me a painting of one of our celebrations this year,” he said, choking up. “I love coaching, I love the classroom and I’m going to miss it, but I’m super grateful.”
As the coach of Syracuse’s girls and boys soccer teams the last few years, Allen has had talented teams that fell short of the championship.
So it was ironic that this year’s team, a No. 12 seed that limped through the month of April, ended up being the title winner. That team showered him with love, and a bucket of water, before leaving the field.
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at email@example.com, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a goal line clearance.