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Road woes … finally coming home

Matt Puglisi | Friday, September 24, 2004

The No. 17 Irish (4-2-1 overall, 1-1-0 in Big East) have been playing with fire.

Statistically dominating opponent after opponent – with the exception of consensus No. 1 Indiana – Notre Dame has stumbled to cash in on scoring opportunities, often forcing the squad to squeak out victories, as was the case against Evansville Sept. 10, or settle for a draw, as the Irish did Sept. 12 against Cal State Fullerton.

Thursday night the Irish finally got burned.

Behind a second half goal from West Virginia forward Jarrod Smith, the Mountaineers (4-3-0 overall, 1-2-0) overcame a 15-6 shooting deficit to knock off visiting Notre Dame, 1-0, Thursday night in Morgantown, W. Va.

“It’s always disappointing to lose, but the Big East is a tough league and every game is tough anyway, but it’s especially difficult on the road,” coach Bobby Clark said. “The big thing is that you’ve got to move on.”

After a scoreless first half that saw the Irish double up the Mountaineers in shots, 6-3, and take three corners to the host’s one, West Virginia jumped ahead at the 63-minute, 18-second mark on a fluke goal.

Mountaineers goalkeeper Nick Noble blasted a long goal kick that sailed over Irish defender Jack Stewart’s head and ended up at Smith’s feet.

Irish goalkeeper Chris Sawyer did everything he could to keep the ball out of the net, including stopping Smith’s initial shot, but the West Virginia forward pushed home the rebound for the contest’s only goal.

“It was basically just a big kick from a goal kick – it went all the way up, and we got caught without good cover,” Clark said. “Sawyer actually half-saved it, but the fellow followed up the rebound and stuck it in.”

Despite playing without the services of a handful of players due to sickness or injury, including forward Brian Murphy, defender Dale Rellas and midfielders Nate Norman, Jon Thompson and Ian Etherington – the sophomore was red-carded for arguing with the referee with just under 20 minutes remaining in the contest – the Irish played their best soccer late in the game.

“We were missing a few guys, and then it didn’t help when Ian was sent off … so we played a man short for the last 20 minutes,” Clark said. “During that last 20 minutes, I thought we picked up the game, and even though we were a man down, actually took the game to them and played with a lot of spirit.”

On Sunday, the Irish conclude their two-game Big East road trip when they look to snap undefeated and Big East leader Villanova’s five-game winning streak at 12 p.m.

A team on the rise, the No. 21 Wildcats (5-0-1 overall, 3-0-0) placed eighth last year of 13 Big East squads (10-8-1 overall, 4-6), earned a national ranking (No. 25) last year for the first time in over a decade and qualified for the Big East tournament for the first time since 1997.

Last year, behind goals from departed seniors Devon Prescod and Justin Detter and a pair of assists from Etherington, the Irish knocked off the Wildcats, 2-0, on Halloween night at Alumni Field. After Villanova outshot Notre Dame, 5-2, in the first half, the Irish came out with a vengeance to start the second half.

Nearly eight minutes into the half, the rejuvenated attack paid dividends as Etherington found Prescod in the box.

Controlling the ball, Prescod turned and fired, breaking the scoreless tie and netting the eventual game winner.

Detter added some insurance in the 80th minute on yet another goal in which Etherington drove down the sideline and found a waiting teammate in the penalty area.

A win against the Irish Sunday would equal Villanova’s conference win total from a year ago with six Big East games still remaining on its schedule.

“Villanova is flying high,” Clark said. “That will be a nice challenge. I think we’re looking forward to that game.”