MEN’s SOCCER: Toppers split weekend MVC matches

Joanie Baker

Eight men in red and blue uniforms were left sprawled out on the field after final efforts to win the game.

With their scratches and battle wounds, they lifted their heads from the grass to the goal and watched in silence at what could change the outcome.

In the last three seconds, Drake’s desperate shot to tie the game deflected off the goal post, and Western won its most physical battle of the season Friday, 3-2.

Senior Ron Plute said there was only one thing going through his mind during the intense moment.

“Oh, God,” Plute said. “Whenever he first shot it, it looked like it was going over the goal, but when it hit the goal post I totally changed my momentum to head the ball out. My biggest concern was to not let a blue shirt get on the other end of it.”

But after two halves of intense scrapping and only 19 collective fouls called to calm the play down, Western earned the Missouri Valley Conference win.

Sophomore Daniel Payne scored his first goal against the Bulldogs and promptly stripped off his jersey in the 14th minute. Shortly after, sophomore Richard Mupfudze followed suit, beating the goalkeeper one-on-one.

Yet Drake (7-3-3, 1-1-2 MVC) was relentless. Before the half, the Bulldogs scored two goals to tie up the game.

But just four minutes after the half, Payne netted his second goal that capped the victory.

But on Sunday, Western turned the tables as it became the more physical team against Creighton. Creighton capitalized on 20 Western fouls to take the 2-1 win.

As though they were still playing Drake, the Toppers (6-7-1, 3-2 MVC) scrapped and fought for every ball. Meanwhile, Creighton (7-3-3, 4-0-1 MVC) calmly passed the ball and ran its plays right around the Topper defense.

“We got into the game kinda half-steppin’, not really ready for the game, and probably a little nervous,” Mupfudze said. “Maybe because everybody knows that Creighton was in the Final Four. That’s why it’s not that they had an edge on us, but they had us thinking mentally more. We were too serious, not relaxed enough.”

But Creighton was full of drama. Countless players rolled around on the field, ailing with pain that ceased once a foul was called.

With the Bluejays coming into the second half with a 1-0 lead, a controversial call gave Creighton a penalty kick that secured the win despite junior Scott DeGaris’ second-half goal.

Coach David Holmes kept many of the less experienced players in the game until late in the second half, when it seemed to be too late to make a difference. But Degaris, Plute and Trey Alexander subbed back in, creating close scoring opportunities.

Holmes said he was very pleased with the intensity the team had in the last 30 minutes.

“I think if the game went five minutes longer we’d tie it up and go into overtime,” Holmes said. “If we went to overtime, I would have felt confident we would have won the game.”

Reach Joanie Baker at [email protected]