Aggies advance to Big West tournament finals

BRIAN LANDRY / AGGIE

Men’s soccer outlasts CSUN 4-2 in game for the ages

UC Davis men’s soccer advanced to the finals of the 2017 Big West tournament with a riveting 4-2 win over visiting CSU Northridge in the most drama-filled match of the season. Senior forward Noah Wilson tapped in the game-winning goal for the Aggies with 22 seconds remaining in regulation to save the season and give UC Davis a shot at capturing its first Big West conference title in program history.

In the final minute, UC Davis senior defender Kyle Higgins handled a long deflection from the UC Davis box that ended up at midfield and dribbled all the way down to the CSU Northridge box, getting through two Matador defenders with a series of impressive ball moves. Dribbling in front of the right goalpost, Higgins chipped the ball past the diving Matador goalkeeper to a wide-open Wilson, who was waiting in the middle of the box to tap the ball in for the game-winning score.

“I was kind of cherry-picking at the end there,” Higgins said. “We were down a guy, so I knew I’d be the only one up top and have to make play if the time came. I found myself with the ball at half and they were kind of lazy getting back on defense and I had a one-on-one with the defender. Coach always says be aggressive so I took him on and ended up getting to the endline, picked my head up and Noah made probably a 120-yard sprint, good position and I found him.”

Wilson deflected all the credit to Higgins, whom he trusted to give him a good pass and an opportunity to fire off a quality shot.

“I’ve watched Kyle [Higgins] for the past four years just shred guys going at them and I knew if I could just get to a spot in the box he’s going to beat him,” Wilson said. “And he played the perfect pass. I just stayed focused and slotted it in. He did all the hard work. The weight of the pass was absolutely perfect. All I had to do was swing my foot through it.”

Higgins scored a breakaway goal with two seconds left to cap things off, as the Matadors desperately tried to tie the game and left only one player on their own side of the field.

Emotions were at a fever pitch in the second half, as the physicality between the two sides started to heat up and the referees were forced to try and restore order to the game. It was one thing after another for the Aggies, with seemingly every call going against them. When it was all said and done, a grand total of eight yellow cards and two red cards were issued by the referees — six yellow cards and both red cards belonged to UC Davis.

After building an early 2-0 lead on first half goals by junior midfielder Justin Wright and redshirt freshman Nabi Kibunguchy, the Aggies were on their heels for the majority of the second half, as CSU Northridge battled back to tie the game with goals in the 58th and 81st minutes.

With the Aggies clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the match, Kibunguchy received a red card in the 80th minute, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and ultimately causing the home team to play out the remainder of the game with only ten players. On the play, Kibunguchy outstretched his leg in an effort to block a kick from a CSU Northridge midfielder, inadvertently flipping the player into the air as the ball left the ground.

A mere 60 seconds later, the Matadors netted the equalizer when senior defender Darion Mealing dribbled down the left side of the box and, from a very awkward angle, fired a missile into the top right corner of the net for the goal.

Immediately following the score, UC Davis senior defender Chase Rhode brought all nine of his teammates into a huddle, in an effort to reunite the squad and help everyone regain their composure.

“Excellent move by Chase Rhode after they scored their second to just bring us in and be like, ‘Hey guys, we’re all seniors here and this is a big moment, so we’re going to give everything we have on this field’ and that’s exactly what we did,” Wilson said. “Just to kind of re-zone in after that second goal, and not just put our heads down but fight through it, was really helpful.”

This small display of unity ultimately reinvigorated the Aggies and inspired them to fight as hard as they could for the last eight minutes.

“It shows the fact that we have eight seniors on the team and we’re an experienced group,” said UC Davis head coach Dwayne Shaffer. “I thought they held their composure and played really well. At no point did I ever feel like that game wasn’t ours.”

Considering the fact that this was a conference semifinal game, the Aggies knew they had no time to stand around and feel sorry for themselves.

“Maybe on any other day you’d just try to take your time, pack it in, and get out with the result, but not in the Big West tournament — you’ve gotta go for the win at all times,” Higgins said.

UC Davis will host the finals on Saturday Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. against Cal State Fullerton.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Wilson said. “It’s always encouraging to put on a show for them and when they get going it definitely gets us fired up.”

 

Written by: Brendan Ogburn — sports@theaggie.org

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