The Wildcats got tired of tight wins.
For the first time since a 3-0 victory against Xavier on Sept. 14, 2008, the Cats took a game by more than one goal.
No. 17 Northwestern (9-4-2, 2-1-1 Big Ten) had played 32 games, winning 19 of them, between the Xavier game and Sunday’s matchup against No. 25 Indiana (7-7-1, 2-2). So when sophomore forward Oliver Kupe crossed over the goalkeeper and lightly tapped the ball into the back of the net in the 78th minute, NU could rest easy in the final minutes.
“It’s always a relief to get that second goal,” Kupe said. “We haven’t won by more than one in a long time, so it felt great.”
The two-goal win couldn’t have come against a better team at a better time: NU was 0-11 against Indiana in Evanston and 2-22-1 overall against the Hoosiers, who have won seven national championships.
“That team over there could still win a national championship,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “But today is about us.”
The game started out as a defensive battle: The sloppily-played first half resulted in no goals for either team.
NU finally broke through in the 63rd minute. After a throw-in deep in Indiana territory, junior midfielder Jack Hillgard found junior striker Matt Eliason with a quick pass on the right side just outside of the six-yard box. Eliason turned and shot from point-blank range, and easily beat Indiana’s Luis Soffner for his team-leading fifth game-winner.
“It felt great to get that goal,” Eliason said. “It’s not every day that you beat a team like Indiana, and not many people have done that around here.”
With the goal, Eliason has 12 on the season, good for first in the Big Ten and third in the nation, behind UMBC’s Andrew Bulls and Levi Houapeu. Even with multiple games remaining in the season, Eliason has already matched last year’s goal tally, which was the second best in school history. With one more, he’ll tie the all-time school record of 30 career goals.
“It’s pretty impressive to play with a guy like Matt Eliason,” Kupe said. “It’s great to play with someone who you can expect to average a goal every game.”
After Eliason’s goal, NU couldn’t rest. The Cats had blown late leads in four games this season. However, with 12 minutes to go, the Cats got some insurance. Eamon O’Neill found Kupe just onside with a pass, leaving Kupe with only one defender to beat. When the ball took a bounce off of an Indiana defender, Soffner came out to near the top of the box. But when Kupe came away with the ball, the goalie was 15 yards from the net and had little chance to stop Kupe. A few dribbles to the right, and Kupe softly shot the ball across the line for the score.
On the other side of the ball, NU’s defense held Indiana scoreless. Senior keeper Misha Rosenthal made three saves, including an 87th minute header he poked over the crossbar to preserve the victory.
Even for an experienced coach like Lenahan, beating Indiana is something special.
“This is a team we used to lose to 11-0, 12-0, and they’re still a great team,” he said. “But today is about us.”[email protected]