UB men’s soccer advances to MAC Championship game for second consecutive year
Bulls defeat Bowling Green 2-1 in overtime thriller
UB head men’s soccer coach Stu Riddle has said all year that there are no easy wins in the six-team, highly contested Mid-American Conference.
On Friday, Buffalo played its sixth consecutive conference game and yet again, Buffalo pulled out a heroic, last-second victory.
The Bulls (12-3-3, 3-1-2 MAC) eked out a 2-1 overtime win on Friday in the MAC semifinal game against the Bowling Green Falcons (9-7-4, 2-1-3 MAC) at Cub Cadet Field. For the second consecutive year, the Bulls will face the Akron Zips (11-5-3, 3-1-1) in the MAC Championship game.
In the 94th minute, junior defenseman David Enstrom headed in the rebound off a free kick from senior forward Russell Cicerone to win the game just four minutes into overtime. He also had an assist on Buffalo’s first goal of the game.
Last week, Buffalo played Bowling Green to a 0-0 draw in their final regular season game of the season. After the game, Riddle spoke about what he thought was different on Friday.
“I think last week both teams were a little afraid to lose, of course we both wanted to win but we were both quite defensive,” Riddle said. “Tonight both teams wanted to win right from the outset because we had no other option.”
The game was scoreless after the first half despite both teams being aggressive offensively. Buffalo came close in the second minute as senior midfielder Braden Scales redirected a shot in the box, but Falcons’ freshman goalkeeper Anthony Mwembia was able to make the save. Bowling Green played particularly physical defense accumulating eight fouls in the first half. They had 16 total in the game.
The Bulls came out even more aggressive in the second half. Buffalo broke the stalemate when junior midfielder Tommy Fogarty-Cameron finished a pass across the box from Enstrom and put the ball behind Falcons freshman goalkeeper Anthony Mwembia in the 50th minute.
“I thought the first 15 minutes of the second half we dominated, we could have been two or three up, but credit Bowling Green, very good team, got themselves back in the game” Riddle said.
The Bulls couldn’t hold their lead for long as a foul in the box gave Bowling Green a penalty shot. Senior midfielder Jacob Roth was able to beat junior goalkeeper Joseph Kuta to tie things up for the Falcons in the 58th minute.
As the game approached the final 15 minutes of regulation, Bowling Green began using most throw-ins opportunities on Buffalo’s side of the field to throw the ball directly into the box, sometimes from as far as 30 yards away, leading to a few near-goal opportunities. However, Buffalo’s defense was consistently able to play the ball well and avert disaster.
Cicerone was kept quiet by Bowling Green’s defense for most of the match. Riddle was pleased to see other players step up offensively in his absence, something he had talked about frequently throughout the season.
“We’ve been saying it all along, you know everyone’s focus had been on Cicerone because he’s the top goal scorer,” Riddle said. “But other guys gotta start chipping in and to see Tommy get his third goal in MAC play and to see big David get that header to win the match was what was needed and I’m really proud of ‘em.”
The Bulls’ win continues one of the most successful seasons in program history. Riddle believes the team has a chance to advance in the NCAA Tournament if they can win the MAC, as Akron went all the way to the final four last year.
“It couldn’t be any better, we’re 12-3-3 which is absolutely an incredible record,” Riddle said. “We played in the championship game last year against Akron very close, losing 1-0, and they were a team that went to the final four, so we’re not afraid of anyone.”
Akron, who won the regular season MAC title, will have home field on Buffalo in the Championship Game for the second straight year. Following Buffalo’s win, Akron made a statement with a 4-0 win over Western Michigan in their semifinal match. With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, Buffalo is hoping to punch their ticket to the dance for the first time in program history.
The MAC Championship Game kicks off at 1 P.M. on Sunday at Cub Cadet Field in Akron, OH.
Daniel Petruccelli is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org