NU Earns Marquee Victory Over NIU (Men’s Soccer)

Ryan Wenzel

By Ben LarrisonThe Daily Northwestern

If ever a game was a must win for Northwestern, this was it.

And though it took two overtime periods, a diving save and a last-minute break, the Wildcats finished the day with the victory they so desperately craved.

Senior Brad North scored the game-winner with just 1:09 left in the second overtime as the Cats downed No. 24 Northern Illinois 1-0 Friday at the Thomas Athletic Complex.

The two teams played evenly for most of the day, but the Cats (11-6) broke through in the 109th minute when sophomore Geoff Fallon found North on a cross in front of the goal. The senior captain put the ball in back of the net to steal a win from the Huskies (12-5-1) in NU’s final game of the regular season.

“We came into this game knowing we were going to win,” North said. “And a win’s a win, no matter if it’s in the 109th minute or the ninth minute.”

NU coach Tim Lenahan elected to start Justin Pines in goal, his first start of the season, and the senior rewarded his coach with perhaps the biggest play of the day. Northern Illinois had a chance to take the lead in the 71st minute on a free kick from just outside the Cats’ box, but Pines made a diving, one-handed stop to keep the game scoreless.

Pines played all 109 minutes for NU, earning his fifth-career shutout and first since 2004.

For the Cats, the win provided a great boost to their case for an NCAA tournament bid. Having failed to win multiple close games against top opponents this season, the triumph over Northern Illinois gave NU a much-needed marquee victory.

Just as important was that the win came within the Great Lakes region, where, by their own admission, the Cats have struggled this season. Picking up regional victories factors in heavily during the NCAA selection process, Lenahan said.

Prior to Friday, the Cats’ biggest Great Lakes win this fall came against Ohio State on September 17.

According to Lenahan, he and his staff chose to focus not on his team’s recent struggles but rather on its potential as it entered the crucial portion of its season.

“Last Sunday we were kind of hanging our heads a little bit,” Lenahan said. “We were saying, ‘We put ourselves in a position where we have to win games down the stretch to go forward with our season.’ Then as we thought about that a little bit, we realized, ‘We’ve put ourselves in a position where if we play well down the stretch, our season continues.’ So it’s all how you look at it.”

The victory comes before the Cats enter the Big Ten tournament, where they face potential matchups with schools like Indiana and Penn State. With a 2-4 record in Big Ten play, compared with a 9-2 mark against non-conference opponents, the Cats will need to break through and make a run in the conference tournament if they are to have a shot at making NCAAs.

Players like North are hoping the momentum from the win Friday will propel them through the early rounds.

“We’re going to ride this one,” North said. “We will be in the championship in the Big Ten. We’re going to beat some teams that we owe a couple goals to.”

Reach Ben Larrison at [email protected]