Holding on by a thread just doesn’t do it justice.
What the Big Red Men’s Soccer team accomplished on Saturday night was something special. Entering the North Coast Athletic Conference road matchup versus #22 Ohio Wesleyan, Denison sat at a record of 6-7-2 (4-2-2 NCAC) and needed either a tie or a win in their final regular season game to clinch a birth in the NCAC Tournament.
Not only did the Big Red need to earn at least one point in their regular season finale, but they had to go through arguably the conference’s best to do so. The Bishops came into Saturday night’s game with an impressive record of 12-2-2 (6-0-2 NCAC). It had been nearly nine years since the last time the Big Red knocked off the Bishops, who have been hungry all season long to try to repeat as NCAC Champions.
While the odds may have been stacked against them, Denison came out and struck first to grab an early lead in the 11th minute. The goal was crossed into the box by midfielder, Dan Milhollen ‘21 and headed into the back of the net by forward, Leo Herard ‘22.
It was Herard’s 3rd goal of the season and perhaps the biggest of his young Denison career.
Goals were not the storyline from Saturday night’s showdown, however. In a game where everything was on the line for the Big Red, perhaps no one came up bigger than goalie, Dylan Brown ‘21.
Brown ‘21 and the rest of the Denison defensive backline never wavered after the team secured the early 1-0 lead. In fact, the Big Red goalkeeper made an incredible seven saves in the first half alone to preserve Denison’s lead going into halftime.
The second-year goalkeeper from Rochester Hills, Michigan shared the mindset that he and his teammates bring into do-or-die games like Saturday night’s.
“We entered the OWU game like any other game we would. Obviously the pressure was on us with OWU and Denison being such a historic rivalry, and knowing we had to come out of the match with points, but we as a team went in and decided the game was going to be won together, not individually,” says Brown ‘21.
With one half down and one to go, the Big Red were collectively doing their job to hold off the ferocious Bishops scoring attack. Despite being out-shot 18-1 in the first 45 minutes, Denison would somehow enter the 2nd half of play up a goal.
While Brown and the Big Red defensive unit were fending off the Bishops, Denison found another scoring opportunity late in the 2nd half. Coming off a set play, midfielder, Stu Windell ‘22 used his head on the receiving end of a free kick from Ryan Albers ‘20 to score the game’s second goal and extend the Big Red lead to 2-0 in the 75th minute.
Windell ‘22 may only be a freshman, but he plays with the poise of an upperclassman on the field.
Although the Bishops came back less than three minutes later with a goal of their own via a penalty kick, it proved to be too little and too late for the defending conference champions.
Brown ended up with 11 saves in a game where his team was out-shot by the Bishops 34-4. The goalie remarks on coming up so clutch for his team in a game where they needed him most.
“It means a lot to me to play a good game, but I’m just doing my job at the end of the day. And that was a big theme for our team. We all weren’t the superstars, but each of us did our role to get the win last night. I’m glad our team bought into that type of mentality, and being able to trust one another,” says Brown.
After handing the Bishops their only conference loss in NCAC regular season play, the Big Red have earned themselves a rematch with the Bishops in the NCAC Semifinals on Wednesday, October 31 at 7 p.m.
The rematch between the #2 seeded Bishops and the #3 seeded Big Red will be played at Ohio Wesleyan once again.
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s much-anticipated rematch, Windell says, “In order for us to have success on Wednesday, we are going to have to be defensively solid and make sure that we capitalize on our scoring opportunities. It’s not easy to beat a team twice and we know that OWU is going to come out hard.”
The winner will advance to the NCAC Championship Match against the winner of the other semifinal game between #1 Kenyon and #4 Wabash.