Aubrey’s hat trick leads Notre Dame to win over Virginia Tech
R.J. Stempak | Monday, September 12, 2016
Amidst a light drizzle at the opening whistle, No. 1 Notre Dame began its ACC slate with a 4-1 win Friday night when it hosted No. 15 Virginia Tech at Alumni Stadium in a battle of unbeaten teams.
The Irish (5-0-0, 1-0-0 ACC) struck first to take an early lead over the Hokies (4-1-0, 0-1-0 ACC). Notre Dame earned the first corner kick of the game in the 13th minute. The cross by graduate student midfielder Evan Panken bounced right to junior midfielder Blake Townes, who was waiting right outside the box. Townes rocketed the ball off the side bar and into the back of the net for his first career goal.
“It was a really good strike,” Townes said. “I have been training in practice, getting the ball at the top of the box and then shooting. So I just took my chance and buried it. I’m really happy, and hopefully I’ll score some more soon.”
Virginia Tech jumped right back into the action with an overhead through ball to sophomore forward Marcelo Acuna, who fired a low shot on goal. Irish senior goalkeeper Chris Hubbard stretched out and blocked the shot, however, for his first save of the game.
Immediately after the Hokies’ shot attempt, Hubbard punted the ball back upfield to junior forward Jon Gallagher, who drew a foul in the box. In the 16th minute, senior defender Brandon Aubrey netted the penalty kick — his fourth goal of the season — to extend the Irish lead, 2-0.
Towards the end of the half, Irish senior midfielder Oliver Harris fired a high shot on goal, only to be denied by Hokie junior goalie Ben Lundgaard. The stop kept the score at 2-0 as the game went into halftime. The Hokies and Irish both took four shots in the period, but Hubbard led Notre Dame’s defensive effort to keep Virginia Tech scoreless in the period.
“Hubbard had fantastic saves when he was called on. He really made the key saves,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said. “Goals change games, obviously. [Virginia Tech] is a good team, and we saw why they were 4-0 coming in here.”
The second half began with a loose ball in the box gathered by Acuna, who was unable to beat Hubbard once again. Five minutes into the half, Virginia Tech was up to six shots and Hubbard had made three saves to keep the Hokies scoreless.
Virginia Tech controlled the first 15 minutes of the half, preventing Notre Dame from getting a shot on goal while putting up five shots of its own. The drizzle returned while the Irish back line held strong against the Hokie attack. Clark said he recognized the Hokies had to come out aggressive in order to stay in the game.
“The opening 15 minutes [of the second half], they were two goals down and they had to pressure, and then I think they ran out of steam,” Clark said. “You only can do that for so long. If they had gotten a goal at that time, it would have made it very difficult [for us to win]. We were taking water in those first fifteen minutes. They suddenly went way up in shots.”
Notre Dame regained control of the contest with a less than 13 minutes left in the contest, when Panken crossed the ball to the far post where Aubrey was waiting for it. The senior headed the ball past the keeper to score his second goal of the match.
“It’s something we work on in the training field all the time,” Aubrey said. “We have Evan [Panken] putting in crosses and me running the back post for the headers, and finally it came off tonight.”
The third goal put Notre Dame firmly in the driver’s seat as the game was coming to an end, according to Clark.
“ … Obviously, when we got the third goal, that also killed it,” Clark said. “[Junior forward Jeffery Farina] just held the ball up front, and we got the game back in their half because we needed the person to hold the ball and let the rest of us get back in. And we when did that, we were fantastic. And Blake [Townes] — I know the goal was great, but what he did apart from that was fantastic. It was a team performance.”
In the closing minutes, the drizzle turned to downpour, and Aubrey appropriately poured it on by converting a free kick from 20 yards out, completing his hat trick.
“The set pieces are something I worked on a lot this summer … and I am just happy its finally all paying off,” Aubrey said
As the crowd of 1,824 at Alumni Stadium dissipated, Virginia Tech earned a penalty kick with just over four minutes left in the game. Ultimately inconsequential, Hokie senior forward Som Essome scored on the penalty, putting the final score at 4-1 in favor of the Irish.
Notre Dame is back in action Tuesday night against visiting Connecticut. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.