SEWARD, Neb. – For more than 86 minutes, sixth-seeded Briar Cliff posed a serious threat of upsetting the third-seeded Concordia University men’s soccer team. The Bulldogs attacked with urgency in the waning 10 minutes and finally got on the board and warded off the Chargers, 1-0, in Tuesday night’s chilly GPAC quarterfinal affair in Seward.
For the season year in a row, 10th-year head coach Jason Weides will guide his program to the conference semifinals. It took a total team defensive effort in order to survive and advance this time around. Concordia bumped its overall record to 15-2-1.
“We really enjoy being around these guys and we don’t want to see it end,” Weides said. “We have aspirations of achieving great goals. We’re trying to step toward that and we did that today. I thought it was just really good defending as a team. We held Briar Cliff, a dangerous team near the top of the nation in terms of goals scored, to two shots on goal.”
Goalkeeper Jack Bennett made two saves when called upon while recording the shutout. He had a relatively inactive night thanks to the work of a backline spearheaded by outside back Florian Caraballo. Briar Cliff’s Prichard Sibanda entered the evening with a national best total of 26 scores. On this particular night, Sibanda donned a large blue cast on his right arm. He was limited to three shots – none on frame.
On the other end, the Chargers (11-6-1) did a commendable job of their own in holding off a Concordia attack that boasts three players with double figure goal totals this season. In the 87th minute, the Bulldogs finally broke loose on a sequence that began with Caraballo’s cross into the box from right to left. Freshman Garrett Perry centered one touch to senior Micah Lehenbauer whose left-footed one-timer sailed to the left of keeper Charlie Enright.
Briar Cliff had been playing with fire for too long. It allowed Concordia to take each of the game’s final seven shots.
“We knew we were going to get one eventually,” Lehenbauer said. “It was just a matter of getting that one chance. We talked about it pregame. It’s not really even that we were playing Briar Cliff. We were really playing ourselves, sticking to our game and making sure we’re doing what we’re good at. We know we’re very good on the counter and at playing those crosses in.”
Lehenbauer and the rest of the seniors know what it takes to pull out nailbiters in the postseason. The group of four-year players has now been part of seven GPAC postseason victories since 2014. They want to rekindle the magic they found during their 2015 conference tournament championship run.
“It means a lot,” Lehenbauer said of the team’s winning pedigree in the postseason. “That’s where the adrenaline kicks in. Once you know what’s at stake, it’s about putting in those extra minutes and grinding it out.”
Perry was active off the bench. It appeared the freshman from Corona, Calif., had given the Bulldogs the lead in the 73rd minute. However, officials gathered and ruled that Perry had been offside. Additionally, seniors Marcelo Hernandez (four shots) and Lewis Rathbone (six shots) very nearly cracked the scoreboard. Concordia outshot the Chargers, 16-8.
Up next will be a trip to Orange City, Iowa, for a GPAC semifinal battle at second-seeded Northwestern (12-5-2). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT on Saturday. The Bulldogs will be aiming to avenge the 2-1 double overtime defeat the suffered in Orange City back on Oct. 7. This will be the third-straight season the two sides have met in the postseason.
“It’s two teams that haven’t conceded many goals this season,” Weides said. “It’s two teams with a ton of shutouts and a great defensive record and two teams that are playing well right now so it should be a fun match.”
Saturday’s winner will play either top-seeded Hastings or fourth-seeded Midland in the championship game on Thursday, Nov. 9.