A season of hard work topped off with a 10-hour trip to Buhl was well worth it for the Bonners Ferry Boys Soccer team.
The Badgers for the first time in the team's history on Saturday won a 3A State Title by defeating Payette 3-2.
It was Bonners Ferry's ninth trip to the finals. The Badgers had previously placed third and took fourth twice at states.
"They made me cry, scream with joy and fill my heart with so much excitement," head coach Wayne Wilkerson told high school students during a Monday assembly to celebrate the victory. "I thank these guys for what they've done and the fans for what they've given me."
The news pleased John Lindgren, who started the soccer program as a high school club 16 years ago.
"It's absolutely well earned," Lindgren said. "We achieved it with dedicated coaches and players. These are academically good kids and socially good kids. They put their stamp on it."
Junior Miguel Mendez converted a penalty kick in the 70th minute after being knocked down in the box to give the Badgers the eventual game-winning goal, and the defense held on over the last 10 tense minutes to seal the victory.
With the win, the Badgers finished the season with an 18-3-1 record.
Opening the first half with a steady 20-plus m.p.h. wind at their backs, the Badgers scored in the sixth minute with Czech Republic's senior Michal Kraus heading in a Mendez cross from the left corner.
In the 18th minute, junior Rob Hart converted another Mendez cross into the back of the net to give Bonners a 2-0 lead, which held up until halftime.
The Pirates used the wind to their advantage in the second half, scoring on two free kicks from 25 yards out on the left side in the 51st and 53rd minutes to knot the score at two apiece. The Badgers tallied an apparent go-ahead goal minutes later, only to have it nullified by an off-side penalty.
After Mendez's penalty kick, the final 10 minutes seemed like an eternity, with Payette narrowly missing several shots on goal and Hart hitting the crossbar with a shot from close range. Finally, the game-ending whistle sounded, sending the victorious Badgers, coaches, parents and fans onto the field in celebration.
Payette had reached the championship game by defeating defending champion Teton 2-1 in the quarterfinals and Orofino 3-0 in the semi-finals.
The Badgers opened the tournament Thursday in the quarterfinals against District 6 champion Sugar-Salem, who had defeated Bonners in last year's tourney. The Badgers struck quickly, with Miguel Mendez scoring an unassisted goal in the fourth minute, and added to their lead with a goal by Rob Hart off a beautiful Mendez assist in the 58th minute to seal a 2-0 victory.
Defense was the difference in this game with senior defenders Andrew Galloway, Spencer Pauls and junior Aaron Hoisington along with senior goalkeeper Cedar Bolton shutting down the potent Digger attack, which had not been shut out all season.
The victory sent Bonners Ferry into the semi-finals against surprise District 5 champion American Falls, which defeated Bliss 5-2 in the opener.
The Badgers defeated the Beavers of American Falls 7-4 in a wide-open, high-scoring affair. American Falls scored first in the 22nd minute off a questionable penalty kick call, but Bonners answered resoundly with four straight goals to open up a 4-1 halftime lead, dominating the midfield play which created numerous scoring opportunities.
Mendez tallied two, assisted on one by Kraus, and sent the initial ball on goal that eventually was kicked in by senior Mark Chrisman after a goal-mouth scramble.
With the game seemingly going in their favor, the Badgers were stunned by two quick Beaver goals in the 45th and 48th minutes, cutting the deficit to 4-3. Bonners responded with a beautiful cross by Krause and header by Hart into the back right corner in the 53rd minute, which was followed up by junior John Wakkinen's 40-yard blast over the keeper's head in the 57th minute to increase the lead to 6-3.
After another AF goal in the 61st minute, Hart finished off a keeper punt by Bolton to complete the scoring and send the Badgers into their first state championship match. Badger midfielders Wakkinen, juniors Jody Wilkerson and Ignacio Lopez and freshman Alex Mendez controlled the pace and tempo of the game with short passing and ball control which enabled Bonners to dominate the action.
Wanda Wilkerson and Ed Moe are assistant coaches.