AZUSA, Calif. -- Freshman midfielder Oktay Bulut took Azusa Pacific’s first 4 shots, converting twice early in the first half for an early scoring burst that lifted the NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Cougars to a 4-2 win over Trinity Western (B.C.) Saturday in the final game of the Cougar Classic.
Bulut’s early first-half strikes were followed by an own goal from a Trinity Western defender that gave Azusa Pacific a 3-0 lead, and junior forward Nathan Nienhuis rounded out the Cougars’ scoring with a 71st-minute breakaway into the box.
Just over 5 minutes into the game, senior forward Alex Earl collected a long throw-in near the goal line and sent it back to Bulut near the top of the box. The 5-foot-11 midfielder sliced a 15-yard strike through the Trinity Western defense to give the Cougars an early 1-0 lead. Just 17 minutes later, it was Earl again who found Bulut in the box for another perfectly-placed 16-yard strike. This time, Bulut fired from the right side at a sharp angle to the far post, depositing his second goal of the game into the side netting for a 2-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
“Midfielders have to be 2-way players in our system, and Oktay finished his chances very well today,” Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist said. “We will be our best in the attack when our midfielders are getting assists and scoring goals.”
In the 35th minute, junior defender Davis Delamarter lifted a hopeful cross from midfield towards the top of the box, where it was headed back towards goal by a Trinity Western defender. However, Spartans goalkeeper Andrew Fink had come out of the goal area to collect the ball, and the ball took one high bounce into the goal to give Azusa Pacific a commanding 3-goal advantage.
Trinity Western out-shot the Cougars in both halves as well as a 19-11 shots advantage for the game, and the Spartans cut into the lead with 5 minutes to play in the first half. Danfi Parker laid off a pass to his left from the top of the box, and Chase Wickham ran onto it and one-timed an 8-yard bullet to the far post to cut the lead to 3-1 heading into halftime.
“When you are leading 3-0, you have to recognize that you still have to play the full 90 minutes at a continued high level,” Blomquist said. “This team needs to learn that on the field. When this group learns how to do that, they can be really good.”
Junior forward Vinicius Dantas set up the final Azusa Pacific scoring tally by heading a ball forward to Nienhuis, where the speedy forward broke free from Trinity Western’s central defense. He won the footrace into the box for a touch past the goalkeeper to the right side, pushing the margin back to 3 goals in the 71st minute.
“Vinicius had a big impact on the game, even though his contributions weren’t necessarily reflected in the stats,” Blomquist said. “I was very pleased with the way he took care of the ball and helped us get into the attack as a team, and I thought he was a big part of effective we were offensively.”
Goran Vitic scored on a 76th-minute penalty kick after the Cougars committed a foul in the box. Just 3 minutes later, Dantas curled a surprisingly accurate 35-yard rocket from the left side that slammed off the far post.
Sophomore goalkeeper Joe Geletko finished with 5 saves, making several impressive one-handed tips that kept Trinity Western off the scoreboard despite its significant advantage in total shots. The Spartans’ Daniel Lowen also hit the post in the 74th minute, less than 2 minutes prior to the Vitic’s score on the penalty kick, and Jordan Whitehead had a first-half shot off the crossbar less than a minute ahead of Bulut’s second goal.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 2-0 heading into a pair of games next weekend at Westmont’s Heritage Club Classic, the first official games at Westmont’s brand-new Thorrington Field.