Men’s soccer advances to Patriot League final with double overtime win over Bucknell
Senior Jake Garcia scores two late goals to give the Eagles at least one more game this season
The AU men’s soccer team faced a similar situation to their first matchup against the Bucknell Bison on Friday afternoon. On Oct. 22, the Eagles trailed the Bison 1-0 at halftime and proceeded to force overtime and eventually win 3-2. In their second matchup with Bucknell this season, the Eagles hosted the semifinal match in the Patriot League tournament and again trailed at halftime. AU once again overcame the halftime deficit to force overtime and secure both a 2-1 victory and a place in the Patriot League championship game on Sunday.
The first half of the game was a back and forth affair, with AU senior goalkeeper Lucas Belanger making a diving save off a Bucknell header and Bison goalkeeper Ryan Ott tipping a long range effort from freshman midfielder Max Holdsworth. However, it was Bucknell that scored first, with senior midfielder Sebastiaan Blickman breaking through the Eagle defense to beat Belanger with a shot into the bottom left corner of the goal.
The second half was dominated by the Eagles as they peppered Ott and the Bucknell defense with constant pressure, totaling 19 shots by the end of regulation. The breakthrough play came from senior defender Jake Garcia who headed in a cross from senior midfielder Panos Nakhid into the top right corner in the 88th minute.
Garcia, a typically central defender, was moved into a forward position by head coach Todd West as a last ditch effort to produce an equalizer.
“I told the guys I had an ulcer after we scored that one to tie it with two minutes left,” West joked. “But I really am excited, we eventually went to three [defenders] in the back and put Jake [Garcia] up top with the idea that he scores goals, which [he] obviously got.”
The pressure from AU continued into the first and second sudden death overtimes, and eventually the winner arrived when Garcia turned in a deflected corner kick from six yards out to guarantee the Eagles at least one more game in their season.
Garcia said he recognized the importance of the team’s situation, aware that the season and his college career could end that afternoon, and was thrilled that the team was able to eventually produce an equalizer and a win.
“That felt great, because when we were down 1-0, I was freaking out that it would be my last game,” Garcia said. “Then I got that goal. I was so excited, so at the end of the regulation, I just said ‘Come on, we’ve got this, it’s going our way,’ and then we found a way.”
Before the game, Garcia was named to the all-conference second team, with first team spots going to Nakhid and senior midfielder Dale Ludwig, and Belanger receiving third team honors. Nakhid was also awarded Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, and Ludwig won Patriot League Midfielder of the Year. West noted that the team felt motivated to prove that Garcia deserved better than just second team.
“We told them at halftime that big players step up in big moments, and obviously Jake stepped up,” West said. “The other thing we said earlier in the week was that we thought it was a snub that Jake was a second team all-Patriot League guy instead of first team, so that’s a great response right there.”
This is the second consecutive year that AU advanced to the championship game of the Patriot League tournament, however last year they lost to Lehigh University in the final. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. West acknowledged that playing the final 48 hours after playing a double overtime game would be difficult, but that this year would be different, with his team showing the resiliency to produce a positive result at Reeves Field on Sunday at 1:00pm.
“This game was like our final against Lehigh last year, and we lost [last year]. So coming back and winning this game, our message is that we can go win the final now,” West said. “These guys will be ready.”