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Foresters survive to advance to semifinals

GOAL: Sophomore Jake Erlandson buries a penalty kick goal, which would become the game-winner, during Huntington University’s 2–1 win over Bethel in the Crossroads League Tournament Quarterfinals on Wednesday.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University men’s soccer team claimed a 2–1 victory over Bethel in the Crossroads League Tournament Quarterfinals in Mishawaka, Indiana, on Wednesday.

With the victory, the Foresters earned the right to advance in the tournament to the Semifinals.

Bethel hosted the contest as they were the higher seed in the tournament after finishing with a Crossroads League record of 4–5 in the regular season to earn the third spot in the tournament. Huntington’s 3–4–2 Crossroads League record gave them the sixth seed.

Despite the Pilots being the favorite on paper, the Foresters knew an upset was feasible given Huntington defeated Bethel 4–0 on Oct. 6.

The Foresters recorded the first good chance of the contest in the sixth minute when senior Matheus Louzada fired a shot from near the top of the box. Bethel senior goalkeeper Philip Keller turned away Louzada’s shot to keep the game scoreless early.

The Pilots responded with a quality chance of their own in the 10th minute when a Bethel player headed a ball off a corner kick toward the Forester goal. However, sophomore goalkeeper Gabe Greenfield was there to shut down the bid.

Bethel again registered a quality chance in the 11th minute when a Pilot got a clear look at Greenfield, but the shot sailed over the crossbar.

The next 25 minutes were spent primarily in the middle of the field, as neither team could penetrate to get a good scoring chance.

Huntington came inches away from opening the scoring in the 36th minute. After Keller had left his goal to break up a play, the Foresters headed the rebound toward the yawning cage. However, a Bethel defender rushed back and kicked the ball out of midair right before the ball crossed the goal line to preserve the scoreless tie.

The Foresters finally broke the deadlock in the 44th minute thanks to a goal from Louzada. After the Foresters’ initial shot was blocked by the Bethel defense, the ball found its way to Louzada, who blasted a shot inside the right post past a leaping Keller to give Huntington a 1–0 lead late in the first half.

“When you look at the first goal, Matheus’s clinical finishing, that’s fantastic,” said head coach Russ Lawson. “It’s what we’ve been accustomed to all his career. For him to put us up 1–0 and get our tails up a little bit (was huge).”

Huntington continued their pressure early in the second half, and in the 54th minute, a through ball to sophomore Jake Erlandson gave the Foresters a good chance to add to their lead. However, as Erlandson approached the ball, now in the box, Keller rushed out of the cage to break up the attempt. Keller accomplished this, but in the process upended Erlandson, drawing a penalty kick opportunity for Huntington.

In the game’s largest moment, Erlandson calmly blasted his penalty kick shot inside the right post past Keller to give the Foresters a 2–0 lead.

“To start off the second half on a beautiful through ball by (senior) Ty (Sproat) to Jake,” Lawson said. “From there, you force the keeper, you force the defense to make a tough decision and we were able to draw that PK and Jake calmly puts it 2–0.”

With their backs against the wall, the Pilots frantically tried to get back in the game. Bethel mustered a couple of scoring chances in the 58th and 61st minute, but the attempts failed to find the back of the Huntington net.

However, Bethel finally broke through in the 62nd minute when a shot trickled past Greenfield inside the far post to close Huntington’s lead to 2–1.

The remainder of the game featured frantic back-and-forth play with both teams trying to get the next goal. With the high intensity also came more physicality, leading to a chippier and scrappier style of play down the home stretch.

The best scoring chance in the final 28 minutes came with one minute left in the game when the Pilots earned a free kick opportunity with the chance to tie the game. However, the shot sailed just wide of the left post. The Foresters successfully drained the rest of the clock to claim a 2–1 victory to escape with an upset victory to extend their season.

“I thought, one, it was a gritty performance,” Lawson said. “Bethel’s a very strong side, very technical talent, and obviously, when their backs are against the wall in that second half, especially when we went two up then, they put some pressure on us. I thought we were able to weather it. I thought there was some bend-don’t-break mentality amongst us, but it was just a total commitment from everyone who was part of it, from the guys on the field to the guys on the bench just pulling for one another.”

Lawson was particularly pleased with his team’s defensive performance against a talented team like Bethel.

Lawson also noted the field conditions provided a challenge for both teams, especially in terms of defense.

“The one thing that you can’t ignore, and it was for both teams, was the field conditions,” Lawson said. “The amount of focus that it takes to defend on a field like this in a match like this is incredible because there’s no room for error. Whenever you can train, whenever you can play a this level and come out on top, that just puffs up the chest, the shoulders are back and you’re feeling really good, not only about your own individual performance, but collectively as a team. We’ve had some very solid games to where out back line has been lights out, and that’s what you need to have to survive and advance.”

With the victory, Huntington will host Indiana Wesleyan, the seventh seed, on Nov. 3. The Wildcats also pulled off an upset victory in the Crossroads League Quarterfinals on Wednesday, outlasting RV Grace 2–1 in a marathon penalty kick shootout with a score of 11–10.

Indiana Wesleyan finished their regular season with a record of 9–6–2, including a 3–4–2 mark in Crossroads League play, the same conference record as the Foresters. Huntington defeated the Wildcats 2–0 on Sept. 29.

Game time for the Crossroads League Semifinal between Huntington and Indiana Wesleyan is set for 2 p.m. from King Stadium. The winner will advance to the Crossroads League Tournament Championship to face the winner of the other Semifinal game between No. 10 Spring Arbor and Taylor.