Bulls Lose Out on Playoff Berth With Overtime Loss
BUFFALO, NY - In typical Mid-American Conference fashion, the final game of the regular season held great significance Thursday afternoon, with the Buffalo Bulls (5-12-2, 3-7-1 MAC) hosting the Akron Zips (6-11-1, 2-8-1 MAC) with a chance to clinch the final seed in the upcoming postseason tournament. After gaining a late lead, the Bulls allowed the Zips to tie and force overtime before giving up a golden goal just over 70 seconds into overtime to lose 2-1.
The tournament scenarios that the Bulls needed heading into the day played out perfectly, with Ohio losing to Kent State and Western Michigan losing to Eastern Michigan. With those two teams losing, the Bulls went into overtime needing to just draw even to earn the final seed in the playoffs. Early in the 92nd minute of play, a Buffalo foul gave Akron a free kick from 30 yards out. Kelly DeNiro took the kick and put it over Buffalo's wall and past Ainsley Wheldon in the top left corner to seal the win and spoil Buffalo's playoff hopes.
"I don't think you can imagine a harder way to end the season," head coach Michael Thomas said. "We came out and created chances - we've had a problem throughout the season capitalizing on those chances and it came back to bite us again. I'm proud of the effort and the push we put on late in the season, but we found our identity as a team a little bit later than we needed to."
The Bulls had claimed the lead in the 73rd minute thanks to a penalty kick goal from Stephanie Velez, her second goal in as many games. After the ball was played into the Akron box, a hand ball foul was called to give her a chance to earn the lead. She cooly sank the ball into the lower right corner. Like so many times this season, the Bulls had a handful of opportunities early in the game but were left empty-handed. Taylor Thompson put a pair of testing headers on frame, including a header in the 47th minute that came ever so close. Ultimately, the team's best chance came in the 28th minute when senior midfielder Shannon Fisher almost scored her first career goal on a shot in the box.
Akron made a huge push forward to find the equalizer, and got it in the 80th minute on a peculiar goal. After a cross from the right side, Ashley Hughes settled the ball and hit a hard one-timer over the head of Wheldon. The ball ricocheted off the middle of the top post and went straight down before bouncing out of the mouth of the goal. The line ref waved his flag to signal that the ball had indeed crossed the line to tie the game.
The match is ultimately the final appearance for seven UB seniors who have helped lead the sea change for UB women's soccer: Shannon Algoe, Fisher, Katie Kerr, Carolyn McNamara, Angela Nicholas, Thompson, and Velez.
"You can't put into words what this group has meant to the University," Thomas said about his seniors. "On the field, they've battled and bled for the university and made the program relevant again. They've done that by being fantastic students and human beings."
Though the team finishes with the same amount of points as eighth-place Ohio and also beat the Bobcats in a head-to-head matchup earlier in the season, the Bulls will sit out the tournament thanks to a "points per match" tiebreaker. Ohio's match against Western Michigan was cancelled due to weather, giving the Bobcats one point per game to Buffalo's .91 points per game. For coach Thomas and the Bulls, the long offseason will serve as a lesson that the MAC season is one where every point and every match matters.
"The lesson that has to be learned this season is how fine of an edge there is between success and failure in this game, Thomas said. "I know that any time I'm going to be slow getting out of bed to get to an offseason training session, this moment is going to be in my memory and I can guarantee the team can say the exact same thing."