Not every nil-nil draw begins with one of the most rare plays in soccer and end in double overtime with a screamer and a shrug, but that’s how Boston College men’s soccer stole a point from the Wolfpack to cap off the regular season.
The Eagles (6-9-1, 1-6-1, Atlantic Coast) traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to face an NC State (8-4-4, 3-3-2) team coming off an enormous 3-2 win against then-No. 5 Louisville and reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Week Manny Perez, whose brace pushed the Wolfpack past one of the best teams in the nation on the road. The Eagles were coming off a 4-0 loss to No. 2 Wake Forest where they lost defensive rock Tomas Gudmundsson to injury, midfielder Henry Balf to a red card suspension, but got co-captain Len Zeugner back on the field as a substitute. There weren’t many reasons to believe that the Eagles had a double-overtime, draw-worthy performance in them, but BC came out looking to prove it wouldn’t be a pushover in the playoffs.
That statement wasn’t made early on. Eight minutes into the game, defender Josh Forbes found himself under some duress from NC State’s press, and played a back-pass to goalkeeper Antonio Chavez-Borelli. Chavez-Borelli has been a bright spot in a frustrating BC season, winning the starting goalkeeper job a few games into the season as a true freshman and more than holding his own through a season filled with adversity. But his season may have ended on a difficult error to blame on the young shot-stopper. Forbes’s back pass hit Chavez-Borelli in the forearm. In desperation to keep the ball in front of him, the keeper accidentally played the ball with his forearm in the area. Chavez-Borelli received a red card for the move, putting BC down to 10 men without its starting goalkeeper.
Backup keeper Jack Bacon had played up until this point in the season a total of 135 minutes, less than two full matches-worth of playing time. He hadn’t played more than a half, hadn’t made an appearance since his last start on Sept. 4 against Xavier, but had only given up one goal and saved seven shots on the year. He came on cold to defend one of the rarest plays in soccer, and he and the other nine field players did so successfully.
The entire team positioned itself on the line, and played the situation perfectly. Wolfpack striker Ade Taiwo struck the pass tapped to him low and into the feet of the Eagle defenders, and NC State forward David Loera’s rebound was blocked over the bar as well. Although BC was down a man and a starting keeper, it had defended what would end up being the Wolfpack’s best chance of the game, and the execution for such an odd situation was perfect.
The rest of the first half wasn’t any less odd either, since it would’ve appeared that the Eagles would have needed to sit back on defense and hope their structure would keep NC State off the board. Instead, BC attacked with 10 men and forced two saves from Wolfpack keeper Leon Krapf, two more than Bacon would have. NC State generated occasional offensive momentum, but their attacks tended to be lacking a perfect final pass to open up BC’s solid defensive lines leading to a lack of clear goal-scoring chances.
That changed in the second half, as the Wolfpack came out of the break looking to hold onto possession and work the BC defense into the ground. The Wolfpack almost pulled it off too, with midfielder Jean-Luca Ahillen ripping a shot from distance that barely swerved over the crossbar, and on a counterattack off a BC corner, NC State’s Loera streaked down the field and found forward Stephen Elias whose shot was blocked wide. The ensuing corner found Wolfpack defender David Norris, and his clean header barely found its way over the crossbar as well. Perez came alive with 11 minutes to go, weaving his way through two Eagle defenders in the box with some beautiful footwork but his final pass couldn’t find an NC State attacker. BC on the other hand never got any attacks going as striker Simon Enstrom found himself essentially abandoned up top as his teammates tried to hold onto the draw.
Regulation ended at 0-0, but the tide had appeared to turn in NC State’s favor. The Wolfpack generated four shots to BC’s one, and forced Bacon’s first save. It also led the corner battle 8-3, but still hadn’t generated nearly as many shots as most teams up a man and trying to beat a backup keeper would have. The Eagles were battered, but far from beaten.
Just as momentum had completely shifted at halftime towards the Wolfpack, it whipped right back to BC in the first overtime. The Eagles forced an early corner which was cleared, then gave up a golden chance to Perez who put a difficult shot over the bar thanks to a perfectly positioned Bacon, and that chance only came to be because Loera placed a through-ball perfectly in Perez’s path. BC closed the first ten minute session with two golden chances, as Forbes whipped a cross into the area with 45 seconds to go, which midfielder Callum Johnson–who has three game winning goals on the season–took on the volley, only to be rejected by the crossbar. NC State immediately conceded a corner, and Johnson’s delivery fell to an unmarked Heidar Aegisson six yards or so from goal, but he couldn’t control his volley either and the ball flew over the bar along with the Eagles’ best chance to steal three deserved points.
The second overtime was mostly defined by exhaustion. Neither team could seem to muster much of an offensive attack, but BC held strong on defense whenever the Wolfpack started to move forward up the field and mostly concentrated on getting clearances rather than counterattacking to try to lock down a point. The only scare came with five seconds to go as Ahillen dribbled into space 40 yards away from goal, and for the second time let it rip for one last ditch effort to win NC State three points which could have pushed the Wolfpack up in the ACC standings leading into the playoffs. This time, his shot did not go over the crossbar, but dipped away to Bacon’s left with eyes for the bottom corner of the net.
Now, just a minute or two prior to this moment, Bacon had shanked a punt out of his area and had been hearing it from NC State’s fan section, located directly behind his goal. He’d only had to make one save, but had consistently positioned himself well throughout the game in order to prevent the Wolfpack from providing easy service into the area to try to tear apart BC’s shorthanded defense. That positioning paid off here, as he dove and parried the long-distance screamer away. As the horn sounded Bacon quickly rose to his feet.
He must have realized the magnitude of the save he had just made, only his second in 102 minutes of work after two months on the bench watching a frustrating season play out in front of him. Head coach Ed Kelly had only used three substitutes off the bench not counting Bacon, one of which played only two minutes. BC had just locked in their first shutout in 13 matches, and Bacon had sealed it with his game-saving stop.
So he turned to the NC State fans, and he shrugged.
He’ll have to back that shrug up Nov. 1 when BC opens the playoffs at No. 13 Virginia. Chavez-Borelli will be suspended, and if the Eagles are going to make it to the second round, they’re going to need a confident Bacon to lead them again. This may have been a moral victory in a slugfest against a hot team, but moral victories don’t count in the postseason. BC needs to ride the high of this performance if it’s going to keep pace with a Virginia team which beat it 1-0 in Charlottesville earlier in the year.
Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff