In a game that the Irish had to win against No. 5 Connecticut in order to have a shot at winning the Big East Blue Division, Notre Dame came up big with a senior forward Bright Dike golden goal in the first minute of extra time.
The Irish (10-7-1, 8-3-0 Big East) leapfrogged over Connecticut (10-3-3; 7-2-1) to take the top spot in the division. If Marquette (4-9-3; 3-4-3) can travel to Connecticut on Monday night and pull out a win or a draw, the Irish will win their third consecutive league championship.
“It was a very good win for us; we really needed that win,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We’re a good team, and this team is capable of playing with anyone in the country. We know that, but now we have to do it consistently.”
Connecticut got ahead of the Irish early when what appeared to be a Husky senior midfielder Mike Pezza cross was caught up in gusting winds of 20 miles per hour and found its way behind senior goalkeeper Phillip Tuttle and into the back of the net.
“We had a couple bad breaks,” Clark said. “They had just one shot in the first half and it was a goal. It got caught in the wind, and the wind got right behind the ball and it went up and down and poor Tuttle did not have much of a chance.”
The game began at a chilly 44 degrees and swirling winds that seemed to have a severe effect on play all game.
“This team knows it can play anywhere,” Clark said. “The weather was not a problem. Let’s be honest, it’s never warm when we play on senior day.”
After the goal, things seemed bleak for the Irish, as they were playing against one of the best defenses in college soccer. Earlier in the year the Huskies had gone eight straight games without giving up a goal, and had only given up four all year.
But the Irish did not let thoughts of futility mull for long after the Connecticut goal, as just two minutes later they got a chance for a corner kick. At the end of the game, the Irish led the corner kick battle 6 to 2.
The boot from sophomore midfielder Brendan King found the head of Dike in the box, but Connecticut goalkeeper Josh Ford made a brilliant save. Senior midfielder Michael Thomas collected the rebound and smacked the ball low and hard right past the goalie into the back of the net.
“We work at least two or three times every week on set pieces,” Clark said. “That was a nice corner and it was good to get something out of it.”
The first half ended knotted up at 1-1, with the Irish holding the shot advantage 7 to 1. The Irish finished the game with a 13-7 shots on goal advantage.
The second half saw Dike get multiple chances on goal that he was just not able to punch in. Twice in the early moments of the second half powerful shots from Dike from the top of the 18-yard box went just wide of the goalposts.
Connecticut had a good chance to beat the Irish defense on a Husky junior forward Alan Ponce shot with just 27 minutes left in the game, but it went just wide.
With 22 minutes left in regulation, King took a shot at what looked like a wide open goal, but a Connecticut defender was able to get a boot on the ball and prevent what seemed like a sure goal.
The lack of scoring in the second half resulted in a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation.
The Irish came out blasting as soon as overtime commenced. Freshman midfielder Dillon Powers got a pass up to junior forward Jeb Brovsky who was able to feed Dike streaking passed the Connecticut defense. Dike was able to slide the ball passed the charging Ford and get his team-leading ninth goal of the year.
“It was a great ball by Jeb, and it was a really great run,” Clark said. “When Bright makes these runs in behind he is almost unstoppable. The size, the speed, he’s got everything there.”
The golden goal was the Irish’s third of the year, and was good enough to slide the Irish into first place in the Big East Blue Division.
The Irish hopes now rest on a disappointing Marquette squad who need to win or draw against the Huskies in Connecticut for the Irish to hold the point advantage in the regular season.
“Hopefully, maybe Marquette can squeeze a point out of [Connecticut], and we can get a third league championship in a row,” Clark said. “If the Marquette game was at Marquette, I think we could have a chance. But being in Connecticut it is a tough task.”
But the Irish will continue to focus on their next game and getting some wins in the Big East Championship starting next weekend.
“Hopefully we can get some more wins and squeeze our way into the NCAA tournament,” Clark said.
The Irish are looking good and getting hot at just the right time as the season is coming to a close.