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Team falls in NCAA 2nd round

Greg Arbogast | Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Irish must have left Alumni Field last Tuesday night with a bitterly cold feeling that had nothing to do with the wintery conditions they faced during their second-round NCAA Tournament game against Northwestern.

For the first time in any of the current Notre Dame players’ career exempting fifth-year seniors, they won’t be tasting the Sweet 16.

After a 2005 trip to the Sweet 16 followed by two Elite Eight berths, the Irish were undone by two second-half goals from freshman forward Oliver Kupe giving the Wildcats a comeback 2-1 win and giving Notre Dame an offseason to contemplate missed opportunities.

“I obviously feel sorry for the seniors,” Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark said. “They’ve had a great career. This is the first time they’ve fallen in the second round. It’s always tough when that happens. This group of guys have worked so hard over the past four years and this year they have been superb. It’s been a great senior class. I felt we deserved more, but soccer can be a cruel game sometimes.”

Cruel would be the word to describe the end to Notre Dame’s season. Kupe hit the game winner with only 1:14 remaining on the clock when he took a pass from senior defender Brian Usinger and fired past Irish keeper Phillip Tuttle.

The goal put a cap on a strong Wildcat performance in the second half that saw Northwestern out-shoot Notre Dame 7-4 after intermission. The comeback started early in the second half when the same duo responsible for Northwestern’s game-winning goal tied the game. In the 66th minute, Usinger slotted a through ball putting Kupe behind the Irish defense, and the forward made no mistake dispatching the ball past Tuttle.

“[Kupe] came on and caused trouble for us,” Clark said. “We had a little bit of a problem with getting our feet in the back at that time. They pressed forward and it was a very good win for them.”

Northwestern’s second-half surge couldn’t have been more different than the first 45 minutes. Before halftime, the Irish constantly pressured the Wildcats goal registering 11 shots to Northwestern’s four. The pressure paid off in the 24th minute when senior defender Jack Traynor ripped a shot from near the top of the 18-yard box that beat Wildcats keeper Misha Kosenthal to the far post.

Kosenthal would give up nothing more, ending the game with seven saves. In the 38th minute, junior midfielder Michael Thomas beat Kosenthal again to the far post, but his shot rebounded back off that post into play. Junior midfielder Dave Donahue was there for the rebound, but his attempt was saved by Kosenthal.

“I thought we played exceptionally well in the first half,” Clark said. “I also thought we played well in the first part of the second half. They scored the goal and they certainly got into the game. They finished the game very strongly. We had our opportunities. We needed to get a second goal.”

That second goal never came, and Notre Dame paid dearly for it. It was the second time this season that the Irish let in a goal in the final minutes that ultimately cost them the game. In a regular season tilt at Louisville, Notre Dame conceded the tying goal on a penalty kick in the 90th minute before losing in overtime.