CARY, N.C. -- In a back-and-forth game that saw a lead change four times, the Wolfpack ultimately pulled away in the last 20 minutes, playing a man up, defeating Tech 6-3. The match’s nine total goals is the highest scoring match in the ACC Men’s Soccer Tournament since 1997.
“We knew what this game was going to be like,” said Head Coach Mike Brizendine. “It was two teams fighting back and forth fighting to continue to play.”
The Wolfpack (10-7-2, 2-5-2 ACC) will face North Carolina in Wednesday’s quarterfinals, while Tech (5-13-1, 1-6-1) will head home to prepare for the spring season.
Evan Slusser got the Hokies on the board first, scoring in the 22nd minute to put the Hokies up 1-0 on his second goal of the season. Greg Cochrane moved up the left side, relaying it to Mikey Minutillo, who passed it up to Slusser at the top of the goalie’s box. NC State’s John Lung’aho evened it up one minute later, off of a long throw-in downfield by Zane Tharaken. The Wolfpack scored their second goal of the half in the 29th minute, with Akil DeFreitas scoring a close goal after receiving the cross by Tyler Lassiter. NC State ended the half with a 2-1 lead.
Tech held the slight edge in shots, 6-5, and corner kicks, 2-1, in the first half. Turnovers and tough defense kept the first half largely at midfield for both squads.
This season, Tech has scored the majority of its goals in the second half, and Brizendine was confident in the Hokies’ chance at a comeback.
“We knew where our downfalls were and we knew where we could take advantage of some things,” said Brizendine. “We believed we could do it and we had some opportunities. We really picked up some momentum in the second half and really responded.”
Five minutes into the second half, Tech evened it up courtesy of Greg Cochrane. Cochrane was in the right spot to receive a Patrick Huang throw-in, and found the net for his second goal of the season. It was Huang’s third assist of the season, all of which have come in November. Clarke Bentley earned a penalty kick in the 57th minute and scored to put the Hokies up 3-2. It was Bentley’s sixth goal of the season, and Bentley is now 3-3 on penalty kicks for the year.
N.C. State evened it up yet again in the 70th minute, after Gbengha Makinde rebounded his own blocked shot to convert on his second attempt from only a few yards out. With less than 20 minutes remaining, the Hokies were forced to play a man down as Jed Prater was given his second yellow card of the match, an automatic ejection. To Brizendine, this was a key shift in momentum.
“You go down a man,” said Brizendine, “so you try to press and you leave yourself wide open. It was one of those games where you have to play to win. Sometimes that happens. It’s difficult in this situation to go down a man against an ACC team and think that you’re going to do well.”
NC State capitalized on the mismatch, driving in three goals late to seal their 6-3 victory. Watt Williams headed in the Wolfpack’s fourth goal of the game in the 75th minute, taking the relayed cross by Craig Sutherland on the right side. Michael Smith took a shot from the upper left corner of the 18-yard box for their fifth goal off assists from Craig Sutherland and Chris Zuerner. Chandler Knox drove in the final score in the 87th minute, bringing the final score to 6-3.
All told, NC State held the edge in shots, 13-10, after taking eight in the second half. Corner kicks were even at six a piece, as were saves at two. James Daly and Thomas St. Germain split time in between the posts for the Hokies, with St. Germain coming in during the second half.
Despite the disappointing loss, this season has provided key experience for a young squad that will pay dividends in the years to come.
“The players are going to understand the importance of every game,” said Brizendine. “We just need to do a better job of winning our non-conference games, get better results in the conference. Our group knows that; that’s a burden we carry.”
“I know we’ll improve, and we’ll always be able to look back on this year and that will help us moving forward.”
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