Trailing 2-0 at the half, the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team fought back to force overtime before falling 3-2 to Denver on Friday evening.
Junior midfielder Gael Rivera (Oslo, Norway/WANG Elite Sports Academy) and junior forward James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo’s) scored for the Huskies before Josh Wren got the game-winner for the Pioneers in the 109th minute.
“I told the guys that I didn’t think we deserved the final result, but at the same time we dug ourselves a hole in the first 45 minutes because we didn’t work,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “We got outworked pretty badly in the first half. I challenged the guys quite a bit at halftime and they had a great response, we were quite good in the second half. We had our chances in overtime, the overtime period was pretty even and they finished their chance.”
Denver (4-1-2) led 2-0 as the second half began and the Pioneers had a pair of chances in the first five minutes of the second half, including one that forced a save from senior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs).
Junior midfielder Karim Darbaki (Crystal, Minn./Shattuck St. Mary’s) had a pair of chances in the 60th minute; his first shot was blocked before his second opportunity went high.
Northern Illinois (1-4-2) cut the Denver lead in half in the 71st minute on Rivera’s third goal of the season. Freshman forward Matt Pritchard (Omaha, Neb./Creighton Prep) received a ball and fed it to Rivera whose near post shot from inside the box beat Denver goalkeeper Oliver Brown to cut the Pioneer lead to 2-1.
Stevenson then pulled the Huskies back level when he converted a penalty kick in the 82nd minute. Following a corner kick from sophomore midfielder Jayson LeSeth (Des Plaines, Ill./Maine West), Denver was whistled for a foul in the box, giving Stevenson the chance from the penalty spot. Stevenson made no mistake from the dot, scoring his second goal of the season and the 11th of his NIU career.
Godsey was forced to make the only save in the final eight minutes of regulation as he stopped a shot from Cole Chapleski in the 88th minute. Godsey finished the match with seven saves.
“We got the ball down on the ground, played soccer, moved it quickly,” Luzzi said of the differences in the second half. “We worked hard for each other on both sides of the ball.”
In the first extra session, sophomore Isaac Kannah (Plymouth, Minn./Prairie Seeds Academy) had the first opportunity when he took a shot that went wide in the 92nd minute. Stevenson had another chance for the Huskies two minutes later, but his attempt was saved by Brown.
In the second overtime period, Rivera had a shot that went wide in the 104th minute. Godsey made a save on a shot by Ryan Dodson in the 107th minute, but one minute later the Pioneers found a winner as Wren beat Godsey for his fifth goal of the season.
Denver opened the scoring in the 15th minute on a goal from Blake Shannon. With their fourth corner of the match, Denver played the initial ball to Cole Chapleski. Chapleski played the ball to Shannon whose shot took a deflection the way to goal and found the net to give the Pioneers and early lead.
Denver doubled its advantage in the 38th minute on a goal by Brian Hoyt. An initial shot from Ryan Dodson hit the post and Hoyt was first to react, firing the rebound off the bar into an open net.
Northern Illinois will return to action at 2 p.m. (CT) Sunday, Sept. 23, when the Huskies face fifth-ranked New Mexico in Albuquerque.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.