MOBILE, Ala. -- Junior midfielder Brett Taylor buried the game-winner with 11 minutes to play in regulation, lifting the NAIA’s No. 5-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 2-1 victory over No. 3 Notre Dame (Ohio) Friday evening at the University of Mobile (Ala.) Kick-Off Classic.
Taylor’s late chance was created by junior midfielder Ashkon Banihashemi, who caught the Falcon defense creeping up towards midfield with a ball over the top of the back row. Taylor one-timed a lob over Notre Dame goalkeeper Craig Pickering for the score.
“One of the reasons we were successful is because we didn’t approach this game any differently than we have any other game,” Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist said. “Our guys do a great job of staying focused on each individual game, and that’s a product of our great senior leadership on and off the field. This was our toughest test so far this season, being away from home and playing a very tough side.”
Both teams generated plenty of quality scoring chances, including near-misses on both sides in the game’s first 5 minutes. Taylor himself accounted for one of the misses, 1 of Azusa Pacific’s 12 first-half shots. Both teams combined for 36 shots, 18 in each half, with the Cougars holding the 21-15 advantage in total shots.
In the 14th minute, a Notre Dame defender trapped the ball with his arm in the penalty box while attempting to settle an Azusa Pacific corner kick. Sophomore forward Vini Dantas converted the ensuing penalty-kick to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead that lasted through halftime.
The Falcons drew even less than 4 minutes into the second half, when Ash Young pounced on a loose ball in the box. Young fired the equalizer from 12 yards out past defenseless senior goalkeeper Tyler Stromberg, who stopped every other Falcon shot on frame for a career- high 7 saves.
Azusa Pacific put 12 of its 21 shots on goal, with Dantas and Taylor accounting for 12 total shots, 8 of which were on goal. The Cougars also took 7 corner kicks compared to Notre Dame’s 2. Pickering registered 9 saves for the Falcons.
“We still need better play going forward,” Blomquist said. “We’ve defended well in all our matches so far, but getting together going forward has been the toughest thing for us.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 5-0 on the season, the fifth 5-0 start in program history. Notre Dame suffers its first defeat and drops to 4-1 overall. The Cougars are back in action Saturday night for a 7:30 p.m. (Central) matchup with tournament host Mobile (Ala.), which faced Azusa Pacific’s Golden State Athletic Conference rival Concordia in Friday’s tournament doubleheader nightcap.