Bulls Fight Past Western Michigan For Senior Night Win
BUFFALO, NY - It was senior night for the Buffalo men's soccer team Friday night, and with its playoff chances again hanging in the balance, the team looked to its six veterans to lead the way. A goal from senior Maksym Kowal and a six-save shutout from senior goalie Jonathan Viscosi led the team to a 2-0 win over Western Michigan (10-5-2, 2-2-1 MAC) in a game that, to put it mildly, was a wild affair.
After an even start to the game, the Broncos pushed forward and forced two shots and two more corner kicks in the 29th minute. The Bulls (4-10-1, 2-3 MAC) pulled off the perfect counter attack, though, when Shane Satar cleared the ball over midfield and found the feet of Kowal. The forward had gambled with a run against a Western back line that had cheated up and he found himself with a breakaway opportunity just past midfield. He beat a charging goalie with a shot that bent over the defender to the lower right corner of the net in the 31st minute.
"Max is a big-time player and when the game is on the line for us he comes through," said head coach David Hesch.
Going into the half with the lead, the Bulls knew that Western would not go away quietly. With only four teams able to qualify for the Mid-American Conference tournament and just two games remaining after today, both teams played the final 45 minutes with a purpose and aggression that gave it a wild tone. The Broncos defender Darren Jones earned a straight red card in the 62nd minute on a hard tackle, setting off a 12-minute stretch where the suddenly short-handed visitors were shown three more yellow cards. The Bulls also would receive cards in the match, a pair of yellows. For the game, 29 total fouls were called.
Despite playing from behind and with a man down, Western Michigan would not relent, pushing men forward and ultimately taking 14 shots in the final half alone and nearly tripling UB's output over the course of the match (22-8). The Bulls would find quality to prevail over quantity though, putting seven of its eight shots on frame.
"I think these guys are responding well," Hesch said. "I've been challenging them and setting up our training to be results oriented so these guys learn to compete when everything's on the line."
The team would come through with a critical insurance goal when everything was on the line, when Lukas Fedler struck home a header off a corner kick by Richard Craven. After coming up just shy on his set play attempts all season, Fedler rose up and banked in the header off the high left post to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead. That would be enough for a UB defense that shut down the MAC's second-leading scorer in Shane Lyons, including Viscosi and his six saves. It was the senior's second straight shutout at a time when the team needed him most. His performance, along with Kowal's goal, highlighted a terrific day for all six of the team's graduating seniors.
Joey Merlo was a menace on the attack all game and Patrick Ryan nearly set up a third goal off a perfect lob that Richard Ainscough headed just over the top crossbar. Meanwhile, Risto Latti and Matthew Chereson played for the entire game on the back line and blocked down eight shots.
"Every time I lose a senior it's close to my heart," Hesch said. "It took me all day to write personalized cards for these guys because they bleed blue and do everything they can to make sure we're successful. All of them played almost 90 minutes today and I think it showed."
The team remains in playoff mode and continues to climb the MAC standings. Buffalo is one point behind Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, who are tied for fourth place in the conference with seven points apiece. Next up is an early-week road match on the road at Hartwick Tuesday at 7 pm. With the team riding its first winning streak of the season, coach Hesch is fired up for the final pair of matches.
"This is a different team now. We've taken our knocks all season and our mantra has been to just move forward and now it's all clicking for us," said Hesch. "I think we have our final product and we're going to try and ride it all the way into the playoffs."