What had once appeared to be a done deal was all at once very much in doubt.
While the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals scored two late goals, they weren’t enough to get out of the hole that had been dug and the Lynn University Fighting Knights claimed the NCAA Division II men’s soccer national championship with the 3-2 victory at Blanchard Wods Park on Saturday.
The Fighting Knights were 2011 national runners-up, losing on a golden goal in the final. They took a picture of the scoreboard and then got back to work.
“That was a devasting game to lose,” Lynn coach John Rootes said. “It really motivated our guys from that day.”
The Fighting Knights (19-3-1) entered with the stingiest defnsive team in the nation and put pressure on the Cardinals right away scoring the first goal at the 2:07 mark of the first half. Jack Winter took a corner kick and A.B. Magnusson headed it to Johnny Mertl who in turn headed it into the goal – the first of the year for the defensive midfielder.
“When you go down a goal it’s tough to chase a game for long stretches at a time against a team like that,” Saginaw Valley State coach Cale Wassermann said. “Whether it’s 4 or 5 to 0, it doesn’t matter to us, we fight for each other, we play to the final whistle.”
The Fighting Knights struck again just before the half.
At the 40:19 mark, James Aldred’s direct kick from 25 yards went to Yannick Braeuer on right side of net about 15 yards out and he headed it into the bottom left for a 2-0 lead.
“If we could have gone into the half down 1-0 it obviously could have been a lot different, but another set piece against a big, physical athletic team and we’re in trouble then,” Wassermann said.
Anthony Desperito, the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, scored the Fighting Knights third goal with just under 12 minutes gone in the second half, appearing to put the game away.
The Cardinals refused to fold, however, scoring two unanswered goals late in a five-minute span. Zach Walega struck first at the 77:16 mark, chipping it over goalkeeper Matt DiCerbo.
DiCerbo entered with the nation’s second best goal-against-average, but the Cardinals Lachlan Savage got a cross from Zach Minor with under eight minutes to go and blasted it into the net.
Indicative of the turnaround in the second half was the Cardinals outshooting the Fighting Knights 7-5 after being outshot 7-1 in the first stanza.
“I’ll hand it to them, they never quit,” said DiCerbo. “With 20 minutes to go down 3-0, I think most teams would have. They put us under immense pressure and got a few goals. It wasn’t pretty, but we were able to hang on and that’s all that matters for us.”