Wednesday night against Penn State was the last chance for the University of Akron men’s soccer team to improve its postseason resume.
But until senior midfielder Aodhan Quinn took matters into his own hands, it appeared disappointment was in store for No. 9 UA.
Quinn scored a goal off a free kick in the 82nd minute to tie the game, then won it in the 105th minute with another free kick as UA defeated No. 11 Penn State 2-1 in double overtime.
An emotional Quinn ripped off his shirt in celebration, and it stayed off until he reached the post-game interview room.
“This guy beside me stepped up big time and you don’t see that from anything other than special players,” Zips coach Jared Embick said of Quinn.
Embick and Quinn knew the Zips (13-3-1, 4-1 in the Mid-American Conference) must raise their RPI before the NCAA Tournament, especially if they need an at-large bid to get in. The Zips are ranked 27th this week in RPI, while Penn State (11-5-1) is 11th.
“This is a huge game because they are ahead of us in RPI, so we get points for that,” Quinn said. “They’re the Big Ten champs, we haven’t lost to any of the Big Ten teams this year, so we’re the Big Ten champs, really.
“Just for the team, the confidence, we know we can come from behind, we can keep building off this. It’s a good victory getting ready for this weekend because we need to get a win.”
The Zips close out the regular season against Western Michigan (8-7-1, 4-0-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Kalamazoo, Mich., with the MAC regular-season title on the line. A Western Michigan victory or draw would allow the Broncos to host the MAC Tournament Nov. 15-17. Western Michigan has never won the MAC regular-season title; it has captured one MAC Tournament championship.
“We put ourselves in this situation earlier in the year. We’ve got to do what we did tonight, we’ve got to dig ourselves out,” Embick said, in reference to a costly MAC loss at home to Hartwick on Oct. 5.
Against Penn State, Quinn equaled his season goal total in his previous 12 matches. He scored for the first time since Oct. 15 against then-No. 15 Wake Forest.
Going into his first free kick, Quinn felt confident.
“The first one I was in a pretty perfect position because the goalie has to stand far post and the whole front post is open,” Quinn said. “It was pretty easy to see where I was going on that one. If we got a goal I knew we were going to win. We were playing better in the second half. We’re a close team and we fight for each other and we know what’s on the line.”
When he lined up to kick again, Quinn didn’t think Penn State junior goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton was expecting him to shoot.
“He was probably cheating a little bit to come out for a cross,” Quinn said. “It was a little farther out wide so I don’t think he was expecting it. I think I caught him off guard.
“I just placed it in … maybe a little luck, maybe a little skill, but it went in.”
UA, which saw senior forward Reinaldo Brenes return from a hamstring injury, is unbeaten in its last seven matches (6-0-1) and has lost just once since Sept. 15. But Embick was disappointed with the first half as PSU took the lead in the 39th minute on freshman midfielder Connor Maloney’s first career goal.
“As a team we knew we had to step up because this is basically our season,” Quinn said. “We’re playing for our seed in the tournament. We just played with a little more heart, a little more urgency and a little more confidence and in the end it helped us.”
At halftime, Embick reminded the Zips where they’d come from.
“The last several games we’ve been excellent and showed a lot of great qualities that we’re going to need in the post-season that we didn’t show in the first half,” Embick said. “These guys stepped up because they’re good players and they have a lot of character. We’re going to continue to push that. We’re excited about the post-season. We’re a dangerous team right now.”
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