For the second time in three years, SVSU’s men’s soccer team found itself in the friendly confines of its home pitch needing just a tie with rival Northwood to win the GLIAC regular season championship.
In 2015, the Timberwolves stunned the Cardinals in a 1-0 shutout to steal the conference championship.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, history repeated itself Friday, Oct. 27, before nearly 500 fans.
Northwood freshman midfielder Sebastian Grillo’s 82nd-minute goal on the cold and windy afternoon was just enough for the Timberwolves to ruin SVSU’s championship aspirations.
“I thought overall as a team, we played below the high standards we demand of ourselves,” head coach Andy Wagstaff said. “Knowing that we could draw the game must have unconsciously had an impact, because we looked like the team with everything to lose instead of everything to gain.”
The loss was crushing for both coaches and players.
“We are all gutted,” forward Michael Shaikly said. “It was hard to lose (Friday) given the magnitude of the game.”
The match got off to a fast and intense start as the huge crowd watched the teams battle for the GLIAC championship.
Both teams spent time in the opposing team’s box during the middle of the half. A header by Northwood’s Zachary Bakos in the 13th minute was the first official shot of the match, but it sailed high of the net.
Following a corner kick in the 17th minute, SVSU’s Kevin Mendoza curved a shot at Northwood’s goal that was saved by NU keeper Corbin Cecchini.
SVSU nearly broke the tie moments later, but Michael Hamilton was called offside during his run for a ball near the Timberwolves’ goal. Shaikly added a shot two minutes later as SVSU continued to put pressure on Cecchini.
SVSU nearly broke the tie again on a long shot from Connor Rutz that connected with the top crossbar of the net and bounced out. Three consecutive corners from SVSU kept the ball near the Northwood goal, but no real threats came as a result, as the game went into halftime knotted at zero.
Northwood earned its first shot on goal early in the second half, but Bryan Lawson’s attempt posed no threat for goalkeeper Connor Keane.
After SVSU possessed much of the ball for the next 10 minutes, Northwood had a chance of its own after a Bakos corner kick reached the head of midfielder Bryan Lawson, but the attempt went wide to kill the threat.
After a Northwood foul in the 62nd minute, defender Omar Sinclair went for goal, but the attempt was saved by Cecchini as the teams traded chances.
Then, an 81st-minute yellow card on Shaikly gave Northwood possession on the Cardinal third of the pitch.
The Timberwolves wasted little time breaking the draw from there, as midfielder James Vaughan found Grillo, who netted the shot, scoring his first goal of the season and putting the Timberwolves just eight minutes away from the GLIAC title.
“Our decisions on and off the ball were not anything like they have been for most of this season,” Wagstaff said. “Our game plan was not to come out looking for a tie, we wanted to win the game. Northwood did exactly what we thought they would do, and their late goal was crushing to us.”
SVSU ferociously tried to equalize, as Hamilton nailed a shot at the NU net, but Cecchini added yet another save to his day. Seconds later, Connor Rutz’s shot was blocked as time continued to run off. The Northwood defense remained strong and prevented SVSU from earning any further chances as time expired and Northwood clinched the GLIAC title.
“We just didn’t rise to the occasion, which needs to change quickly if we want to go on a run and get into the NCAAs, which is our ultimate goal,” Wagstaff said.
Despite the loss, SVSU still has a first-round bye in the 2017 GLIAC tournament. The Cardinals will play the winner of Tiffin vs. Northern Michigan match in the GLIAC semifinals on Friday, Nov. 3.
The winner of the GLIAC tournament earns an automatic bid into the NCAA playoffs.
“We have to pick ourselves up again and get ready for the tournament,” Wagstaff said. “It’s been a while since we’ve won that, so this loss will be great motivation to go and get the job done.”