UPDATE! The NIU men’s soccer team will host WIU at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, for first round action.
With 6:40 left in regulation time of the Mid-American Conference Championship match, sophomore Sean Totsch (Oswego, Ill./Oswego) became the hero for the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team, flicking a header into the back of the net off a free kick from freshman Isaac Kannah (Plymouth, Minn./Prairie Seeds Academy) to secure the MAC Championship for NIU over Western Michigan, 1-0.
“It’s hard to describe to be honest,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi after the match. “A lot of players, coaches and staff worked really hard for a number of years to make this happen. I thought we had a good team coming into the season and, as the season progressed, I thought we had a tournament-worthy team and we’re just ecstatic it’s official now. As has been our M.O. all year, we just found a way to win. It wasn’t the prettiest but we found a way. If that’s what we’re known for, we’ll take that any day.”
The match featured a tremendous amount of physical play, as the teams combined for 14 fouls in the first half, play would stopped on three different occasions during the match because of injury. The physical play meant that possession of the ball was in short supply while free kicks and 50/50 balls were a constant theme of the match. In the end, Western Michigan out-fouled NIU, 15-13.
The Broncos had the first good chance to open the scoring when, in the 30th minute; Kai Mendes rifled a shot off the crossbar that ricocheted back into the box. Mendes attempted to bicycle the rebound but fouled junior Rocco Taglia (Caledonia, Ill./Boylan) trying to clear space and ended his own scoring threat.
Seven minutes later, sophomore Gael Rivera (Oslo, Norway/WANG Elite Sports Academy) took a pass from sophomore James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungos) at the top of the 18-yard box and worked himself into a shooting position from point blank range, but WMU goalkeeper Sean Lewis was up to the task, deflecting the shot out for a corner kick.
NIU held a 4-3 edge in shots in the first 45 minutes; both goalkeepers were forced to make one save in the opening stanza.
Chances were few and far between in the second half as four yellow cards were shown and just five shots were attempted before the Huskies finally broke through in the 84th minute.
NIU drew a foul near the sideline to the right of the Western Michigan goal and Kannah went over to take the free kick. Kannah played the ball into a dangerous area inside the box and Totsch rose above a sea of Western Michigan black and Northern Illinois white, flicking the ball over Lewis and into the net for what would prove to be the game-winner.
“It was a great service by Isaac and I was just able to be the first one there,” said the Oswego, Ill. native. “The biggest thing with set pieces is just wanting it and that’s what got us a goal tonight.”
For Totsch, the goal was just the second of his NIU career, the first coming a week ago in the regular season finale at Hartwick.
Western Michigan tried to throw everything forward in the remaining minutes. The Broncos were able to earn one corner kick, but never tested NIU junior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs) as the Huskies prevailed to win their second MAC championship, the first since 2006.
With the victory, NIU improves to 14-5-0 and will await the NCAA Selection Show to find out when and where it will play in the NCAA Tournament. The selection show will be streamed live on NCAA.com on Monday, Nov. 14, at 3:30 p.m. CT.
For more information on Huskie men’s soccer logon to NIUhuskies.com.