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Foresters to play for Crossroads League title

CELEBRATION: Senior Matheus Louzada yells in celebration seconds after scoring the eventual game-winning goal during Huntington’s 3–1 victory over Indiana Wesleyan in the Crossroads League Semifinals on Saturday.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University men’s soccer team advanced to the Crossroads League Championship after beating Indiana Wesleyan 3–1 in a thriller in the Crossroads League Semifinals on Saturday at King Stadium.

The third-seeded Foresters earned a spot in the Semifinals after upsetting Bethel 2–1 on the road on Oct. 31. The Wildcats, the seventh seed in the tournament, earned their spot after an upset marathon penalty kick shootout victory against Grace.

With the Foresters having earned the higher seed in the tournament, Huntington owned the right to host the Semifinal matchup, giving the Foresters the edge on paper.

However, just 5:40 into the game, Indiana Wesleyan opened the scoring off a broken play that found and uncovered Wildcat, who blasted a shot just under the crossbar to give Indiana Wesleyan an early 1–0 lead.

Finding themselves in a hole quickly, the Foresters looked to even the score in the do-or-die game. Sophomore Noah Stanford generated the first quality chance for Huntington when he chipped a shot toward the Wildcat cage in the 12th minute, but Indiana Wesleyan goalkeeper Naoya Fugono punched the ball away before it could cross the goal line.

The ensuing corner kick also resulted in a quality chance for the Foresters, but a header attempt inched just over the crossbar.

Indiana Wesleyan nearly doubled their lead in the 22nd minute, but the attempt was blasted wide of the Huntington goal, leaving the score at 1–0 in favor of the Wildcats.

Freshman Ben Arnold came close to getting Huntington on the board in the 23rd minute, but his sliding shot flew just wide of the right post. Arnold then sent a header just wide in the 24th minute off a cross.

Sophomore Valentin De Coninck recorded one of the best chances of the half for Huntington in the 40th minute after receiving a nice pass from sophomore Noah Fleming, but De Coninck’s bid was stopped by a diving Fugono.

Fugono also shut down an attempt by senior Matheus Louzada in the 43rd minute, whose shot was deflected by a Wildcat defender before being stopped.

Heading into halftime, Indiana Wesleyan held a 1–0 lead despite being outshot by the Foresters 11–6.

“I felt like we had moments in the first half where we were able to get in behind,” said head coach Russ Lawson. “We were just missing that final piece of quality, whether it was a service into the box or on the shot. At halftime, it was all about doing what we do, knowing that we do have weapons and that if we’re playing them in the soft spots they’re giving us, we’re going to find our reward.”

It appeared as though Huntington evened the score early in the second half, but the referee deemed sophomore Jake Erlandson committed a foul before firing the ball to the back of the net, negating the would-be goal in the 54th minute.

However, with the Foresters clearly motivated to extend their season, the Huntington offense continued to put pressure on the Wildcat defense.

Huntington finally broke through in the 61st minute when senior Miguel de Sousa headed a free kick from Louzada inside the left post to tie the score at 1–1.

“We pride ourself on set pieces,” Lawson said. “To ultimately get Miguel in the box on that set piece was huge. And then, once again, you get that momentum and (it) just gives us a boost all the way through.”

Louzada nearly put Huntington ahead just seconds later with a great scoring chance, but his shot was stopped by Fugono in diving fashion.

Huntington almost took the lead on an innocent chip shot from Arnold in the 72nd minute, but Fugono caught the shot at its peak inches away from the goal line.

With the Forester offense generating plenty of chances over the course of the second half, the momentum was clearly in Huntington’s favor.

The Foresters finally gained the lead in the 83rd minute when Louzada finished off a beautiful passing play between De Coninck and Erlandson.

However, Huntington was not finished. The Foresters continued to pour on the pressure and senior Ty Sproat put the final nail in Indiana Wesleyan’s coffin in the 87th minute after Louzada danced around two Wildcat defenders before setting up Sproat in front of the net. Sproat’s tally put Huntington up 3–1 with less than four minutes to play.

Although Indiana Wesleyan frantically tried to score to bring the game back, Huntington’s defense stifled the Wildcats the rest of the way, resulting in a 3–1 final to end Indiana Wesleyan’s season and send the Foresters to the Crossroads League Championship.

“Things didn’t start the way we scripted and that we wanted to,” Lawson said. “But, for us to gain our composure, for us to play clear, with an emotional stability, allowed us to stay with the game and continually work at, one, getting that equalizer, and it finally came. … The effort and the execution was there for the most part of the game. (I am) so proud of the boys. The excitement that they bring to each other, to the campus, it’s a good day. It’s a good day to be a Forester. … That’s some of the finest soccer that I’ve seen a HU men’s soccer team play in decades.”

The Foresters will take on No. 10 Spring Arbor, the number one seed in the tournament, for the Crossroads League title, as the Cougars defeated Taylor 4–1 on Saturday in the other Semifinal matchup.

Spring Arbor triumphed over the Foresters 3–1 on Oct. 24 and finished their regular season with a spotless 9–0 mark against Crossroads League teams to claim the top seed in the tournament.

Though Lawson knows Huntington will have their hands full and have things to improve on, he knows the Foresters will put forth a good effort and will enjoy the opportunity they have.

“We can always be cleaner with the ball (and) cleaner with our decision making,” Lawson said. “We’re a possession-oriented team. We like to have the ball at our feet. But we also know that there’s a time and place for everything. There were some moments here in the game today where we were fortunate that we didn’t get stung with some of those decisions. … We’re blessed to be there in a championship game. We’ll train this week with that in mind, that it is a gift and we won’t take it for granted, and we’ll put our best foot forward next Saturday.”

The Crossroads League Championship between Huntington and Spring Arbor will be played on Nov. 10 at Spring Arbor, with the victor earning a spot in the NAIA National Championship tournament in Irvine, California.