Winning ways continue in GPAC postseason

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 3, 2016 in Men's Soccer

SEWARD, Neb. – A pair of Lewis Rathbone headers were enough to erase a one-goal hole and lift the Concordia University men’s soccer program to yet another GPAC tournament victory. The 2015 GPAC postseason champs extended their conference tournament unbeaten streak to four while holding off visitor and sixth-seeded Northwestern, 2-1, in Thursday’s quarterfinal tilt.

In the process of claiming victory, ninth-year head coach Jason Weides’ squad pushed its run of consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins to six. The third-seeded Bulldogs (10-6-2) will now play at second-seeded Midland (16-2-1) in the semifinals on Tuesday.

It felt good to be at home for a program that hadn’t hosted a postseason game since 2001.

“The past few years we fell short of hosting a playoff game, but obviously had good playoff runs,” Weides said. “It’s really nice to be in front of our fans. Our fans are so great. I think it was just a huge advantage for us tonight and helped spur on the guys.”

Northwestern (7-12) couldn’t seem to keep track of Rathbone in the box. The junior from Manchester, England, proved lethal with the ball in the air. Both of his goals came on headers. The first was assisted by Alex Grocott on an expertly placed ball that got Rathbone in behind the defenders. The second came after goalkeeper Matt Scott punched the ball directly at Rathbone, who headed the it into the upper left corner of the goal from just inside the 18.

It was the first career multi-goal game for the junior midfielder.

“Two brilliant balls into the box on my head. I couldn’t ask for two better balls,” Rathbone said. “I just connected with them. I’m happy with the two goals, but I’m more happy with the win.”

Northwestern struck first after a throw in into the box kicked out long to Lee Wynja, whose strike from more than 25 yards out glanced off the fingertips of goalkeeper Mark Horsburgh and went into the back of the net in the 41st minute.

Horsburgh made up for it with a sparkling second half that included a series of noteworthy saves. Horsburgh has been here before. He shined as one of the heroes of last year’s GPAC championship run that saw him total 26 saves as the Bulldogs shut out all three opponents on the road.

The Red Raiders ended their season with four-straight losses, including three by a margin of just one goal. However, they made life difficult during the first half in particular. Northwestern ended up outshooting Concordia, 11-9, though the Bulldogs held possession better over the contest’s final 45 minutes.

“I just think we did a really good job of responding and not letting that first goal knock us on our heels,” Weides said. “We kept on playing. Our guys were unfazed by it. Top to bottom, everybody who stepped on the field did a great job for us. We had a ton of energy from our sideline. All around it was a great team performance.”

Now the Bulldogs put their GPAC postseason win streak on the line at Midland, which has leapt all the way up to No. 14 in the national coaches’ poll. When the two sides met in Seward back on Oct. 12, the Warriors came away with a 2-1 victory. Concordia and Midland also played in the GPAC semifinals in 2015 when the Bulldogs advanced by winning the penalty kick shootout that followed a 0-0 draw.

“We just have to finish our chances,” Rathbone said. “We’ve got to be positive in front of the goal. We create a lot of chances. We’re going to need to put them away early and start really fast.”