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No Third-Time Charm

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November 20, 2010
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific came less than 8 minutes away from making an early first-half goal enough to pull off its first win in 3 tries against the GSAC’s regular-season and postseason tournament champion Vanguard, but the Lions broke through for an 83rd-minute equalizer and claimed a 2-1 win on Kevin Cornwall’s 98th-minute “golden goal” Saturday afternoon in the 2010 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship Opening Round.

Azusa Pacific’s strong defensive effort came just a week after Vanguard scored 3 first-half goals on the Cougars in the GSAC Tournament championship game in Costa Mesa. The teams were paired up for a rematch just a week later in the NAIA Tournament Opening Round, but Azusa Pacific was selected to host due to its higher rating in the NAIA Modified RPI rankings, which were used to select and seed the national tournament field. Vanguard also scored 3 goals against the Cougars in the teams’ regular-season meeting, when the Lions scored the game-winner in the final second of regulation for a 3-2 win Sept. 25.

Shutting down Cornwall, who entered the game with 15 goals and was named the 2010 GSAC Player of the Year, was the key to Azusa Pacific’s defensive game plan, and the Cougars executed the plan to near-perfection. However, Tomislav Colic’s highlight-reel bicycle kick off a short corner kick in the eighth minute of the first overtime period found Cornwall with enough space in front of the goal for an easy header finish for the game-winner.

The loss ends Azusa Pacific’s campaign with a 16-5-1 overall record, while Vanguard improves to 14-7 and moves on to a second-round matchup with Notre Dame (Ohio) on Monday, Nov. 29, at the NAIA Tournament final site in Orange Beach, Ala., where the tournament will conclude that week.

Freshman midfielder Oktay Bulut gave Azusa Pacific the first-half lead, scoring from 14 yards out in the 26th minute. Bulut finished a ball sent into the right side of the box by junior forward Vinicius Dantas, driving it past Vanguard goalkeeper Trevor Herrera to the near post.

From then on, the Cougar defense focused on cutting Cornwall out of the Lions’ attack, keeping tight pressure and sending extra defenders his direction every time he touched the ball. Their execution limited Cornwall to just 2 shots through the first 80 minutes of action, although it also left Jack Plummer unmarked into the left side of the box when Cornwall reversed the ball with a back-pass to Adam Holstein at the top of the box. Holstein moved the ball out wide to Plummer, who chose the narrow near-post angle for a 17-yard strike that tied the game at 1-1 in the 83rd minute.

Azusa Pacific generated a 17-9 shots advantage in regulation, and the Cougars were first to record a shot in overtime with a Brett Taylor header saved by Herrera. However, the Lions’ counterattack resulted in a foul on the other end, and a corner kick soon followed that set the stage for Colic’s breathtaking bicycle-kick assist on Cornwall’s game-winner.

A Vanguard corner kick early in the second half nearly led to what would have been a 2-0 Cougar lead at the 59-minute mark. With Vanguard pushed forward for the corner kick, a quick clearance and counterattack led Taylor into the right side of the box. With Herrera charging to cut off his angle, Taylor fired a pass across the box to Dantas, who chipped the open chance over the crossbar.

The Cougars’ national tournament appearance, the sixth in program history, was the first since Azusa Pacific claimed the 2007 NAIA championship.