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AZUSA, Calif.-- Keenan Armbrust’s golden goal in the 100th minute lifted the Azusa Pacific men’s soccer team to a 2-1 overtime win over Montana State Billings on Thursday night. With the Cougars and Yellowjackets (0-2-1) deadlocked at 1-1 Steven Shiokari found Oktay Bulut, who then played a through ball to Armbrust in the middle of the box. The sophomore striker then slotted it past MSU-Billing’s keeper to give Azusa Pacific, which grabbed a man-up advantage in the 86th minute, its second consecutive win on Armbust’s third career game winner.
“That play all started because of Oktay’s great work rate. He won the ball in the middle to set it all up for us. Then it was a moment of insightful passing, and really a nice finish from Keenan to see where the goalie was and tuck it in the far side netting,” said head coach Dave Blomquist.
The Cougar offense, which has had its struggles in the final third this season, looked sharp all night against the Yellowjackets’ bend-don’t-break defense. Azusa Pacific rattled off a season high 22 shots, putting 10 on goal (also season high) to triple its season goal total. Senior defender Garrett Mehrguth scored the Cougars’ other goal, giving Azusa Pacific a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute on his first career score when he found an opening in the defense, and rolled it past the keeper from the right side.
“We’ve been moving the ball pretty well this year, but up until tonight haven’t been turning it into chances or shots, and haven’t been consistently dangerous. But tonight we were. We turned our possessions into shots, and chances on goal, and it resulted in a win. I was happy with the ball movement, the passing, and the way our guys competed,” said Blomquist.
The Cougars (2-2) held Montana State Billings’ counter attack in check for the majority of the night, but a defensive breakdown in the 54th minute gave the Yellowjackets the equalizer. On the play MSU-Billings played a ball deep into the box, and after a bounce Haley Klarich got his head on it and finished past junior keeper Chip Cox.
“They were a tough team, and we did a good job not to give them too many opportunities. But on the play they scored we had a chance to get it away and we didn’t. They were spot on. We hesitated for a second and they punished us,” said Blomquist.
Cox registered six saves in the match, and turned away multiple chances for the Yellowjackets. Early in the second half he stopped a strike from Klarich from point-bank range, and in the 87th minute kept the match tied with a fantastic diving save before Raul Martinez backed him up with a sliding stop on the Yellowjackets’ rebound.
MSU-Billings’ only other great opportunity came in the 82nd minute when Jesper Fries’ strike from the left side of the box nailed the inside of the right post, spun back towards the middle, and was sent away safely by Colton Lamb. The Yellowjackets recorded 17 shots.
The victory brought Azusa Pacific’s record to 2-2 on the year, with one more match in its 10-day, five-match season opening run. The Cougars will end their initial non-conference segment of the schedule on Saturday when they welcome former GSAC rival Concordia for a 7 pm tilt. Azusa Pacific holds an all-time series edge of 22-6-3 against the Eagles, but is just 1-1-1 in the past three meetings.
“This stretch to open the season has seen a lot of growth. We’re using it to continue to improve and each game we have progressed in what we’re doing on the field. Some of the players that weren’t necessarily in the mix in the preseason have seen their roles change, and that’s what we were looking to get out of our non-conference schedule. The guys are playing better and now we’re excited for Saturday. It’ll be great to play Concordia again. They’re very good and it will take our best performance,” said Blomquist.
MARCH TO THE MATCH
The first March to the Match will take place prior to Saturday night’s game against Concordia. Join The Zu (Azusa Pacific’s school spirit club) on the Cougar Walk on East Campus at 6 p.m. for a pregame celebration before a trolley ride and march to the match. Games and snacks will be provided.