Sunday night had all the trappings of a budding rivalry playing out in a playoff format.
The intensity was high, the fans battled in chorus and packed the stadium beyond capacity.
It wasn’t the MLS Cup Playoffs, though. It was the second round NCAA Tournament match between Seattle University and the University of Washington at Husky Soccer Field.
A boisterous crowd of 3,100 fans that overflowed to the fences surrounding the field watched as the Huskies continued their stellar season and the Redhawks saw their fairytale season come to a close as UW emerged a 4-2 victor to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament and a meeting with Pac-12 rivals Stanford next Sunday.
“It was a great result for us today. Those inner-city rivalry games are tough,” UW Head Coach Jamie Clark said. “I think we handled the first half pretty well until we scored. Then they showed resilience. Then we put the game well out of reach and they showed a lot of resilience. They turned that last 20 minutes into a scramble.”
The Huskies dominated the ball early and got six shots over the first eight minutes of the match, but were unable to get one past Seattle’s senior goalkeeper Jake Feener. The pressure finally proved too much in the 28th minute, as Darwin Jones pressed up the left side of the box, cut to his left foot and rifled a shot inside the far post for a 1-0 lead on his seventh goal of the season.
Over the final 15 minutes of the first half, Seattle saw more of the ball and outshot UW 5-2, but only one required a save from Ryan Herman.
UW continued the high pressure in the second half and was able to capitalize this time, getting goals from Josh Heard in the 48th minute, Cristian Roldan in the 57th minute and Mason Robertson in the 66th minute to race to a 4-0 lead.
Seattle displayed the resilience that got them into the tournament and battled back over the final 25 minutes.
In the 72nd minute, goals by Chase Hanson and Brady Ballew just 27 seconds apart turned the game on its head and shifted momentum back to the Redhawks. However, the rapid-fire onslaught only rejuvenated the Huskies and they regained their composure to close out the match with a 4-2 win, improving their record to 15-1-4 on the season.
“Facing a little adversity through the game is better. A 4-0 game would have felt good, but guys would have probably been overly confident,” Clark said. “4-2 is probably a real result – we weren’t 4-0 better, that’s for sure.”
The loss was the first defeat for Seattle since falling to UW, 2-0, on October 8 at SU’s Championship Field, ending a surprising run of 12 matches that saw the Redhawks go unbeaten in conference play, win the WAC tournament and advance past Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, knocking off a team that had been to the Final Four each of the last two seasons.
After being picked sixth in the conference in the preseason coach’s poll, Head Coach Pete Fewing has the Redhawks on the fast track to being competitive at the NCAA D-I level in just his second year back at the helm.
“It’s been a huge progression. I’m really proud of the guys after starting 0-6-1 to have the resiliency to fight all the way back and get to the second round of the NCAA Tournament,” said Feener, one of four key seniors for the Redhawks this year. “I think that shows a lot about where the program has grown and where it’s going to continue to go. This is a team that’s not going to quit. They’re going to keep going no matter if times are hard or not.”
The Redhawks finished at 11-9-4.
Washington will host Stanford in the third round on Sunday, December 1 at 5 pm PT, at Husky Soccer Field. Washington won both meetings between the two teams in the Pac-12 season and are looking to defend the No. 2 ranking put on them in the tournament. However, Clark said rankings and records don’t mean much in the NCAA Tournament.
“Seeding can almost get thrown out the window. If you don’t win, you go home,” Clark said. “At this point, it lets us choose our color of jersey and it lets us play at home.”
CARDINAL TOP 15-SEED IN SECOND ROUND
The Huskies will face off for the third time this year with Stanford after the Cardinal got past No. 15 CSU-Northridge on Sunday with a 1-0 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Matt Taylor scored the lone goal for Stanford, who improved to 10-6-4 with the win over their in-state foes.
Sunday’s match will be a homecoming for Sounders FC Academy products Aaron Kovar and Jordan Morris. A sophomore midfielder, Kovar was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 with two goals and six assists, while freshman forward Morris was first team All-Conference with six goals and seven assists.
OKOLI LEADS WAKE TO THIRD ROUND
Wake Forest junior forward Sean Okoli, a Sounders FC Academy product, scored a 27th minute goal and the Demon Deacons held off Navy to reach the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, too.
Okoli’s goal gave him the team lead with nine goals this season, giving him 24 goals and eight assists in 60 matches over three seasons. The 14-seed Wake Forest will meet 3-seed Notre Dame on Sunday at 4 pm PT.