DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Having just endured a frustrating 90 minutes that had yielded a 1-1 score Azusa Pacific put things swiftly into gear as Andriy Budnyy scored 35 seconds into overtime lifting the fifth-seeded Cougars past the No. 12-seed Graceland (Iowa), 2-1, Friday at the ERAU Soccer Complex in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The victory eased what had been a gut wrenching game that saw the Cougars uncharacteristically struggle to create quality chances and the Yellowjackets get a game-tying goal in the 75th minute.
It also was a game at the mercy of the weather as gusts of wind, which nearly reached 30 miles per hour, prevented the keepers from getting the ball to midfield from the top of the 18-yard box.
However, despite the adversity, Azusa Pacific was resilient and able to steady itself in earning the second win at the NAIA Tournament in program history.
“We would have loved to have played great today but we didn’t,” said head coach Phil Wolf. “I felt like we were scrambling the whole game and doing a lot of running which isn’t good. But I told the boys afterward that there are no upsets at this tournament and that a win is a win.”
Budnyy’s 18th goal of the season was a welcomed sight for the Cougars who were limited by a tough Graceland defense. Ryan Cheek crossed a ball in from the left side and Budnyy beat keeper Ben Berning with a header for the win setting off a wild celebration.
“When Cheek crossed it I saw that the keeper was in the middle and I went for a corner and got it,” Budnyy said. “It is frustrating when things don’t go the way you want but I’m proud of the way the boys stuck together.”
The assist from Cheek was the first point of his collegiate career. “I took a touch and saw ‘Dre making a run and whipped it in. Towards the end of regulation we had done a better job of creating chances and going into overtime we were saying to ourselves we are not going to lose this game,” he said.
Budnyy’s goal left Graceland players strewn about the field in stunned disbelief and propelled the Cougars (18-4-0) into the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. They will face the No. 4-seed Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) on Saturday at 12 p.m. (EST).
The Cougars got on the scoreboard first in the 17th minute when Brandon Stirm served a ball in front of the goal and Sven Simon went high in the air to head it in for a 1-0 lead. The game would stay close for the remainder of the half as the teams combined for just the one shot on goal.
Both teams had to combat a wind that often affected the direction of the ball with Simon at one point during halftime declaring, “This wind is absolutely ridiculous.”
“It was definitely difficult,” said keeper James Crawford, who earned his first career win at the national tournament. “Sometimes their crosses would carry farther than I thought and other times they would die down.”
It was much of the same in the second half as the Cougars struggled to keep the ball on the ground. The Yellowjackets did not fold and tied the game up when Herscel Hislop served a corner kick back post to Jesus Rodriguez who put the ball in the air. Bret Loving headed it down and the ball scooted between a Cougar defender and Crawford to knot the game at 1.
Azusa Pacific then began to find its way. “After they scored we started to play a little bit,” said Wolf.
Although unable to finish in regulation the Cougars got several shots off against Berning who was forced into action late after the starting keeper, Isaac Unruh, was injured in the air after he collided with Budnyy.
Graceland, which nearly converted a late chance in the box in the final minutes, ends its season at 11-6-2.
“We live to fight another day,” Stirm said. “Tony (Rotunno) told us in the huddle afterwards that we battled for 91 minutes and as long as you win that is all that matters.”