They’re usually a finesse team, one that stresses strong defense and fancy footwork. But when it comes time to play rough, the Wildcats are ready.
Northwestern (6-6-5, 0-3-2 Big Ten) racked up 12 fouls, three yellow cards and a red card Sunday in its 1-1 tie with Ohio State (4-9-4, 2-2-1). The Cats missed out on their second-to-last opportunity to reach the goal of winning a Big Ten game this season.
NU’s transgressions were not as extensive as the Buckeyes,’ who were whistled for 23 fouls, five yellow cards and a red card.
Still, even as the Cats pushed and shoved their way toward the goal, they kept a sense of decorum.
“It can get into a little trash talk, but we don’t do that,” freshman forward Gerardo Alvarez said. “But we stand up for each other.”
NU’s players didn’t fault Ohio State for its rough style of play, which coach Tim Lenahan said was legal. And NU showed it can play tough, physical soccer for 110 minutes against a Big Ten opponent.
The Cats might have even escaped Columbus, Ohio, with a win if not for a late first-half goal by Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ Taylor Korpieski knocked a header past NU goalkeeper Justin Pines just 40 seconds before the half.
Korpieski’s goal marked the second time in four games that the Cats allowed a goal in the final minute of the first half.
“It’s inexperience of not knowing the clock,” Lenahan said. “Hopefully, it’s the last time we’ll learn that painful lesson.”
Officially, the Buckeyes held the statistical edge at the half, out-shooting the Cats 11-3. But Lenahan said he couldn’t figure out how those numbers could be accurate.
“I told their coach, ‘I need your statistician to be my accountant,”‘ Lenahan said.
The Cats evened the score eight minutes into the second half when Will Nicholas notched his third goal of the season. Nicholas, a freshman, took a corner kick from Alvarez and headed it into the net.
Nicholas’ day ended early, when, in the 100th minute, he was given a red card for his second rough tackle of the game. He sat out the final 10 minutes and will be ineligible for NU’s Nov. 2 game against Wisconsin.
Although he lost his second-leading scorer for the season’s final regular season game, Lenahan said he wasn’t upset with the red card.
“I never criticize anyone when effort and hustle went to the play,” he said. “It wasn’t flagrant — just two hard fouls.
Although NU couldn’t replace Nicholas, the Cats were forced to make a switch at goalkeeper when usual starter Brian Heckenbach injured his right shoulder during pre-game warmups.
Just five minutes before the game, Pines, who planned to redshirt his freshman season, was named the Cats’ starting keeper. He performed well, stopping five of six shots on goal.
“I think every single player came up to me before the game and assured me I’d do fine,” Pines said. “It definitely boosted my confidence.”
Lenahan said he won’t know the extent of Heckenbach’s injury until the team returns to Evanston and he is examined by NU’s medical staff.
NU pressured Ohio State down to the last minute, out-shooting the Buckeyes 4-2 during overtime. And although the Cats tired toward the entire of the game, their fatigue didn’t stop them.
“We don’t play so much with our legs the last 20 minutes,” Alvarez said. “We play with our hearts.”