Sophomores Sean Totsch (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) and James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo’s) each scored to propel the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory at Hartwick on Saturday evening.
The victory was NIU’s fourth-straight conference win as the Huskies improve to 12-5-0 overall, 4-2-0 in the conference.
“It felt like a tournament game, no question,” NIU head coach Eric Luzzi said.
“You could feel the tension on both sides, it got to the point where it was wide open with a lot of transition play. Guys were giving everything they had and it definitely felt like a tournament game,” Luzzi added. “Credit to Hartwick, they gave us everything we could handle and our guys found a way to win. The conditions weren’t great, the field was a little soft and that frustrated our guys a bit in the first half. But we scored two great goals in the second half and we did well to close out the game.”
NIU started brightly as freshman Jayson LeSeth (Des Plaines, Ill./Maine West) was fouled 25 yards from the Hartwick goal in the fifth minute. On the resulting free kick, sophomore Karim Darbaki (Shattuck St. Mary’s) forced a fine save from the Hawks goalkeeper Tom Buckner as he tipped the shot over the crossbar.
Hartwick responded with an excellent chance of its own as Greg Mathers found a little space in the NIU box in the ninth minute saw his shot just miss the far post.
The Hartwick goalkeeper was forced to tip another NIU shot over the crossbar in the 20th minute as Darbaki once again nearly scored from a free kick, this time from just outside the box.
The match went to the break scoreless, NIU held a 5-4 edge in shots taken in the first half. Buckner made three saves in the opening 45 minutes while junior Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs) was forced to make just one save for the Huskies.
NIU broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute as Totsch recorded his first career goal, whistling a 35-yard shot into the far corner to put the Huskies in front.
“Games like this are decided by special plays and Sean’s goal was an absolute highlight film goal,” Luzzi said. “He had a full head of steam and hit a rocket into the upper corner. It was a first-class, quality strike and it was well-deserved.”
Hartwick leveled the match in the 64th minute as Mathers scored off a short corner. Simon Greatwich played the ball to Mathers who found the back of the net from the top of the 18-yard box.
Following the Hartwick goal, NIU went immediately on the attack, earning a corner just 33 seconds after the goal. LeSeth took the corner for the Huskies and Stevenson rose highest to meet the ball and head the Huskies back in front, still in the 64th minute.
Stevenson’s goal came just 47 seconds after the Hartwick equalizer. The marker gives the Falkirk, Scotland native a team-best six goals on the campaign, four of which have come in the last five matches.
“It was a great service by Jayson LeSeth and a fantastic run by James who just got in front of his marker, but it was made possible by a great service,” said Luzzi. “Credit to the guys to respond immediately, it was good that they kept their belief and they were rewarded right away.”
Needing a result to earn a trip to the MAC Tournament, Hartwick tried to throw everything forward in the remaining 25 minutes, but the Hawks could only muster one shot as Mathers tested Godsey in the 69th minute but the Ocean Springs, Miss., native was able to make the save.
With the win, the Huskies have earned the No. 2 seed for next weekend’s Mid-American Conference Tournament. NIU will play third-seeded Buffalo at 8 p.m. Eastern Time Friday, Nov. 11, in Akron, Ohio. Top-seeded Akron will host No. 4 Western Michigan in the other semifinal.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.