LA JOLLA, Calif. - If you weren't there, you missed out.
Senior All-American goalkeeper Josh Cohen made three exceptional saves in the penalty-kick tiebreaker as No. 17 UC San Diego outlasted Chico State in a thrilling second-round match of the 2013 NCAA Division II Men's Soccer Championship Saturday night.
Following Cohen's final stop, a portion of a season-high crowd of 985 at Triton Soccer Stadium rushed the field from the sidelines and stands, hoisting the two-time California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Most Valuable Defensive Player onto their shoulders and providing the exclamation point to an incredible evening of great rivals, great atmosphere and great college soccer.
The official result of the match went down as a 1-1 tie in double overtime, with the Tritons advancing to the NCAA tournament’s third round via penalty-kick tiebreaker, 5-4. Second-seeded UCSD thus moved to 14-3-4 overall. Chico State, the third seed in the West, concluded its campaign at 14-4-3.
UCSD moves on to face No. 12 Simon Fraser, a national semifinalist a year ago, in Denver, Colo., on the campus of Regis University. That match is likely to take place on Friday, Nov. 22, though the date and time are still to be finalized by the NCAA on Monday at the latest. Simon Fraser, the lone Canadian outfit in Division II, was a 2-1 double-overtime winner earlier in the evening at fifth-ranked Cal State L.A. It marked the Golden Eagles' one and only home loss on the year after nine straight wins, and also prevented a fourth match-up in 2013 between the conference foes.
The Tritons went first in the shootout, with Andisheh Bagheri and Tyson Crim, and then Brandon Bauman and Jordan Gorman, trading successful attempts. Senior ‘Cats goalie Sam Evans then dove left to deny Alec Arsht, with Cohen immediately following suit to his right on Kramer Runager.
Evans turned away Will Pleskow to his right, putting the visitors back in the driver’s seat, as senior center back Jake Ward then converted to put UCSD on the brink.
Facing a must-make situation, fourth-year senior Cory Wolfrom calmly buried his effort high, setting up Chico State’s leading scorer, Octavio Guzman, as the potential game-winner. The senior midfielder appeared to strike strong and true, but Cohen summoned every last ounce of wanting to keep his college career alive, diving all-out to his left and just barely getting his left hand on Guzman’s shot to push it away.
It was an unbelievable save. A game-changer.
From there, junior left back Matthew McClure made no mistake, but Matt Hurlow snuck his attempt under Cohen, who had guessed correctly on the direction.
In a pressure-packed spot, Triton freshman Malek Bashti, who had registered his first collegiate goal to eliminate Chico State from the CCAA Championship in the semifinals just one week prior in Turlock on Nov. 8, stepped up and coolly slotted his kick to the right.
In a second successive must-make scenario for the ‘Cats, Cohen went to his right to parry Justin Saul’s shot, and bedlam ensued.
Saturday’s game was the fourth meeting of 2013 between UCSD and Chico State, all close, entertaining affairs with each of the last three going into overtime, and the Tritons holding a 2-1 edge in the season series heading into this final showdown.
It seemed destined to go the distance, and it did.
What the contest didn’t seem destined for was two goals in the first 20 minutes, as it pitted two of the top 10 defenses nationally in Division II, but that, too, happened.
The teams traded exquisitely well-taken goals. The Wildcats, seeded third in the West, opened the scoring at 8:25 through a cracker by Hurlow. The sophomore out of Escondido ran onto Evans’ long punt, took a couple of touches and roofed his right-footed shot from 25 yards into the upper left corner. Evans earned the rare goalkeeper assist. It was Hurlow’s third goal of the year.
At 18:02, UCSD earned a free kick from straight on, just inside its offensive half. Bagheri provided the perfect service from the kick, and fellow senior Gavin Lamming rose higher than everybody else to power his header into the lower right corner. It was Lamming’s second goal of 2013 and Bagheri’s second assist.
Through over 90 more minutes of soccer, that 1-1 deadlock was not to be broken, meaning a penalty-kick tiebreaker would decide who advances.
The ‘Cats had the best opportunity over the remainder of the first half, as Gorman found Justin Walmsley down the right flank, and the sophomore crossed in for Runager to blaze one over the crossbar in the 31st. Pleskow had a hard shot blocked out to a corner kick in the 69th after promising build-up play by UCSD.
During the first overtime period, Bagheri was narrowly unable to thread his pass through to junior striker Alessandro Canale.
Cohen finished the 110 minutes with three saves, while Evans was not called upon to make a single stop for Chico State, which outshot the Tritons on the night, 13-10, including 6-0 in the overtime periods.
The game came almost 10 years to the day after the CCAA opponents had met in UCSD’s only previous NCAA tournament appearance at the Division II level, with Chico State producing a 2-0 victory in a regional semifinal in Carson on Nov. 14, 2003, en route to a national runner-up showing.
Triton Notes: UCSD leads the all-time series, 10-6-3 ... Previously in the 2013 season series between these rivals, the teams split two regular-season meetings, each winning 1-0 on the road, with Chico State’s in overtime on Oct. 13, before UCSD earned a 2-1 overtime decision in the CCAA Championship semifinals in Turlock on Nov. 8 … The Tritons are 0-1-1 all-time in two appearances at the NCAA Division II Championship and 0-1-1 against Chico State ... UCSD finished 7-1-3 at Triton Soccer Stadium this season ... These teams began the week as two of the top 10 nationally on defense in the NCAA Division II, with UCSD boasting a 0.48 goals-against average (fourth) and Chico State 0.67 (10th) ... UCSD had seven seniors in its starting lineup ... Senior midfielder Taylor Wirth (Escondido/La Costa Canyon HS) sat out a third straight contest through injury ... UCSD has still not let up more than one goal in any of its last 25 matches since a 3-0 loss at Cal State Dominguez Hills late in the 2012 campaign ... UCSD had not scored against Chico State in La Jolla in 220:10 prior to Lamming’s header Saturday night ... Lamming’s goal was UCSD’s first ever in an NCAA Division II Championship … Saturday night marked the Tritons’ first penalty-kick tiebreaker since the 2004 CCAA Championship semifinal, when they were eliminated by Cal State Bakersfield in Carson, 3-1 ... It was also UCSD’s first home match in an NCAA Division II Championship..