UB men’s soccer headed to MAC Tournament Championship

Cicerone’s overtime goal sends Bulls to final for first time since 2007

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It took an overtime goal from 35 feet out, but the men’s soccer team is headed to the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship game for the first time since 2007.

And the goal came from, of course, MAC Player of the Year Russell Cicerone.

The Bulls (8-6-4, 2-2-1 MAC) defeated Western Michigan (11-4-4, 3-1-1 MAC) 2-1 in overtime of the MAC Tournament Semifinals Friday to advance to the championship game against Akron for just the third time in program history. Buffalo got the game-tying goal from junior defender Daniel Cramarossa with about four minutes left in regulation before Cicerone, a junior forward, scored in overtime.

After scoring the game-winning goal six minutes into overtime, Cicerone celebrated on the field by sliding into the grass with his teammates piling on him. It was a moment he’d been waiting for since stepping onto the UB campus.

“It’s a dream come true,” Cicerone said. “Since I was a freshman, all I ever wanted to help this team get to the MAC Tournament and now we’re in the MAC Finals.”

The first half could best be described as a defensive showdown. The teams played each other less than a week ago in the regular season finale – a 1-0 win for Western Michigan.

And just like last week, both teams also had an adversary: the wind.

While Cramarossa called the team’s play “a bit sloppy,” head coach Stu Riddle said the first half play was due to some familiar weather conditions.

“Like last week, there was some harsh weather conditions out there,” Riddle said. “There were some strong winds and it affected both teams, I think. Forced both sides to play a bit tighter on the defensive end, for sure. We were expecting another defensive matchup like last week and we certainly saw that in the first half.”

The Bulls allowed just one goal Friday, thanks in large part to the play of sophomore goalkeeper Joseph Kuta. Kuta recorded 11 saves on 12 total shots on goal by the Broncos, deflecting several key shots and bringing his tally to 14 saves on 16 shots on goal in the last two games.

But he did allow one that almost ended Buffalo’s season.

In the 65th minute, Western Michigan defender Zach Boch found an angle and planted one in the back of the net. For all the team’s work on the defensive side of the ball, the Bulls still faced a deficit late in the second half.

For 20 minutes, the Broncos stopped all of Buffalo’s offensive attacks and sent shots back to midfield with the goal of running out the clock. And then in the 85th minute came a poor clear out by Western Michigan that gave the Bulls a chance.

“I saw it at the top of the box and I started licking my lips,” Cramarossa said. “I got an angle and the back of the net was the only thing on my mind. I made a move and launched it.”

The goal, a shot in which Riddle called a “rocket,” tied the score at 1-1.

In the 96th minute, Cicerone answered the call for the Bulls. From 35 feet out, Cicerone got the ball near the sideline and blasted one, shocking Western Michigan, his teammates, the announcers on the call and even his head coach.

“It got me,” Riddle said. “Extra time, free kick wide from about 35 feet out. We got the message to Russell that anything on goal was going to be dangerous. He kicked it and the wind got it, and it got an incredible curve in for the goal. It was a great play. ”

Akron (13-3-2, 4-0-1 MAC) defeated West Virginia (7-11, 2-3 MAC) 3-2 in the late game to also advance to the championship game.

Speaking before the Akron win, Riddle said the Bulls were “going to be prepared for whoever we have to face.”

Sunday’s championship game is set for 1 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium - Cub Cadet Field in Cleveland, Ohio.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quetin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.