If you were lucky enough to be one of the first 1,000 fans to arrive at South Field on Friday, you received a commemorative bobblehead doll of BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood. Bobbleheads, of course, nod their head up and down.
The real Rockwood was nodding after the game as well, approving of No. 10 BYU’s 2-0 shutout of rival Utah in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 5,036.
“This is a huge win for this team and they fought hard,” Rockwood said. “For the seven seniors, it was a big win. This is always a big game and we’re certainly getting better and better with each game.”
Elise Flake was a catalyst for BYU’s attack with a first-half goal and assisted on the Cougars’ clinching goal by Cameron Tucker in the second half.
“We’ve been working trying to get our forwards to stay high and central,” Rockwood said. “That’s the best game I’ve seen Elise play. She was dangerous every time she touched the ball. That’s what we want, for our forward to think they can score any time they get the ball, She was fantastic.”
So was BYU’s defense, which earned its third shutout in four games and still hasn’t allowed a goal in the run of play. Utah held possession and connected well enough to get some offensive push, but Cougar goalkeeper Sabrina Davis and the back line of Alyssa Jefferson, Rachel Lyman, Danika Serassio and Josie Guinn kept the Utes off the scoreboard.
“Our defense is so solid,” Rockwood said. “Sab (Davis) came up with some huge saves in that first half to keep us up a goal, but our back line, they had their hands full tonight. Any time you play a team that’s fast and plays in transition, that’s tough to manage. I didn’t make any subs, so that back line ran a lot tonight.”
It was a physical start to the game, with Utah picking up three fouls in the first three minutes. Flake created scoring opportunities for BYU on crosses but Utah goalkeeper Carly Nelson made a slick save on one and on the other, no one was home in the box when the ball skipped through.
Lizzy Brady rocketed a shot from 30 yards out in the 19th minute that just cleared the crossbar for the Cougars. In the 20th minute, freshman Sara Jane Affleck threaded a pass to Flake, who beat her defender and launched a shot to the near corner for the goal for a 1-0 BYU lead.
Utah countered immediately and tested Davis with a pair of shots inside the box in the 21st minute, but Davis deflected the first, jumped up and knocked away the second to keep the Utes off the board.
“Ireland (Dunn) was pretty dang close, so all I could do is make contact with her shot,” Davis said. “I just had to push it and get back up. I knew where I parried it and it was to the middle of the goal, which is really dangerous. The main thing going through my head was to get up and get big and make sure to get that ball.”
BYU took a 1-0 lead into the second half and Flake created another scoring opportunity in the 64th minute. Flake took Braby’s corner kick and somehow found Tucker right in front of the goal for a 2-0 lead and the Cougar defense didn’t allow a shot the rest of the way.
“Utah’s strategy is to counter attack a lot,” Guinn said. “They try to send longer balls over us. Our whole team was able to get behind the ball as soon as they got it and that was our strategy, to get behind the ball and slow them down.
“Every win is great but something about beating Utah is even sweeter. We showed up before the game and we could hear them in their team room trying to get fired up. That motivated all of us to come out and beat them. Playing in front of 5,000 people on South Field, it’s a thrill. My adrenaline was pumping and I’m sure that was the case for everyone on the team, too.”
BYU might have put a few more tallies on the board but for some spectacular Nelson, the former Timpanogos standout who finished the night with seven saves.
The Cougars (4-0-0) have a huge match against No. 13 Texas A&M scheduled for next Thursday at South Field. Utah (2-3-0) travels to Boise State on Sunday.