As a center back, University of Akron co-captain Brad Ruhaak is used to scoring an occasional own goal.
It happened to the redshirt junior defender from Copley High School as recently as Nov. 13 in the Mid-American Conference Tournament against West Virginia.
But on Sunday, Ruhaak’s header into the wrong net came in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately for Ruhaak, SMU midfielder John Lujano returned the favor 11 minutes later for the deciding score.
Fourth-seeded UA defeated unseeded SMU 2-1 Sunday before an anxious crowd of 2,280 at FirstEnergy Stadium. In a game that featured two own goals and UA’s NCAA Tournament record 19 corner kicks, the Zips (17-3-2) hung on through a scoreless second half.
With a 40-13 advantage in shots, UA shattered the school record of 34 set in a 2-1 quadruple-overtime victory over Northern Illinois in 2001 and in a 4-0 triumph over Robert Morris in 1997.
“Wow, that’s a big number, 40, I’ve never seen anything like that. Must have been some home stat crew,” SMU coach Kevin Hudson said as his team finished 15-3-4.
In the numbers more important to Hudson, UA held an 11-6 advantage in shots on goal. SMU’s Michael Nelson, a 6-foot-4 sophomore and two-time American Athletic Conference goalkeeper of the year, had nine saves.
The Zips advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals against 12th-seeded Creighton (19-3-0), which upset fifth-seeded North Carolina 1-0 Saturday in Chapel Hill. One victory away from a trip to the College Cup Dec. 11 and 13 in Kansas City, the Zips will host the Blue Jays in a game tentatively set for Saturday at 4 p.m.
UA is seeking to capture its second national championship, following the program’s breakthrough in 2010.
“I thought we were very good on the day,” UA coach Jared Embick said. “I know we had the own goal and it got a little scary, but I thought we were close to breaking the game open. It didn’t happen, but the most important thing is we really didn’t give up much the other way. Our second-half performance was outstanding.”
UA redshirt junior midfielder Goncalo Soares scored the only legitimate goal in the 25th minute off assists from sophomore forward Stuart Holthusen and junior midfielder Adam Najem. It was the second goal of the season for Soares, a native of Lisbon, Portugal.
The game-winning goal came in the 43rd minute when Richie Laryea’s pass bounced off SMU midfielder John Lujano’s foot and into the net for UA.
“On the corner, it looked like it was a battle in the box and a collision of players and it came off their guy’s head,” Hudson said of the own goals. “Our guy, you’ve only been on the field for three minutes and he’s facing his own goal and he’s got a bad position and it comes off his foot. It’s not the way you want the game to go down, but it’s part of the game.”
Ruhaak said of his: “It was a good service and I had a clean path at it. It kind of bent at the last second, I was still trying to get my head on it and it just deflected the wrong way. It was kind of unlucky.”
UA’s 19 corner kicks — all by Najem — were an NCAA Tournament record for a regulation game. Connecticut holds the mark of 20 in a 2-1 quadruple-overtime win over Hartford in 1999.
In that role, Najem was subbing for redshirt sophomore forward Sam Gainford, sidelined with a leg injury suffered in the second-round victory over Rutgers.
“That’s a lot of corners. I was just hoping one of them could find someone,” Najem said. “Everyone battled in the box and got in the right positions and we were just unlucky. I think we’ll get one soon.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.