DURHAM, N.H. — It was a tale of two halves in Durham Friday night. Wildcat Stadium had little to cheer about in the first 45 minutes versus the New Jersey Institute of Technology (2-6-1, 1-2-0). The Wildcats looked frustrated and a little fatigued after a brutal stretch of games. Halftime was enough of a breather for the No. 6 team in the country. The University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer team (11-0-0, 3-0-0) looked refreshed and reloaded in the second half. The ‘Cats put three past the Highlanders in the span of 15 minutes to maintain their perfect record.
The Wildcats were slow out of the gate. UNH failed to register a shot on target until the 22nd minute of play. It was a noticeable cool down for what had been a red-hot Wildcat offense. UNH managed to get some more juices flowing toward the end of the half. The long throw-ins from senior Chris Pinkham were the most potent option for UNH’s attack for most of the first half. Several ended with shots on net, but none found the back of it. Later on, graduate student Linus Fallberg had a half volley that looked like a sure goal. Alas, the effort deflected just wide of the left post to keep the game scoreless.
UNH’s frustration continued in the first part of the second half. Chances were no longer the problem, but it seemed destined that none would turn to goals.
Senior Tola Showunmi shot toward the goal on the counter and picked out the perfect pass to sophomore Yannick Bright who came flying into the box. Bright pounced on the ball and delivered a powerful strike with an outstretched foot. His effort was just inches high and careened off the crossbar. The frame vibrated mockingly as the ‘Cats came up empty once again.
It felt as if UNH was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Highlanders’ defense. Despite NJIT looking like a deer in the headlights against UNH’s vaunted attack, the opening goal just hadn’t come.
Finally, in the 61st minute, UNH had the right man in the right spot at the right time. Bright hammered a volley on net and was denied this time by the keeper who parried the ball back into play. Graduate student Bridger Hanson followed the shot in and lobbed the rebound easily into the back of the net for his second goal as a Wildcat. The roar that erupted from Wildcat Stadium felt equal parts joy and relief.
The next celebration could not have been more joy-filled. In the 67th minute, graduate student Sam Henneberg broke open the Highlander defense with a long pass from his defensive third to midfield. The arching longball was ideal for speedster graduate student Paul Mayer to run on to. Mayer didn’t hesitate with his pass which he curled along the ground with inch-perfect precision. Waiting for it was Gould who thumped his third goal of the season just under the crossbar. It was pandemonium at Wildcat Stadium. The ‘Cats momentarily switched sports and formed a 32-man long rowboat to celebrate their second goal on the night.
The Mayer and Gould connection flourished in the spring but had yet to do so this fall. If this goal means it’s back, then the task of beating the Wildcats just got that much harder.
Following the second goal, the route was on, and it wasn’t long before UNH had their third of the night. Fallberg surprised everyone in the stadium when his free-kick from the corner for the box curled all the way into the back of the net at the far post. Whether or not the midfielder meant to score from there might be up for debate.
With all the chances the Wildcats offense produced, this game could have ended 6-0. UNH finished with 20 shots and eight on goal and had chances galore following their slow start. Three goals were plenty, though, as the UNH defense was back to its best. Following a strangely sloppy showing versus Harvard, the ‘Cats backline was on their toes all game. UNH only allowed six shots and two on goal. NJIT was smothered all night and, for the most part, pinned into their own half when they had possession.
The Wildcats will enjoy a much-needed break from action following a long stretch of games. UNH isn’t back on the pitch until Oct. 9, when the ‘Cats take on the Binghamton Bearcats (7-2-0,2-0-0). Binghamton is second in the America East, so they could be one of the most significant tests for the nationally-ranked Wildcats in the regular season. UNH won’t have home-field advantage, but that hasn’t stopped the undefeated Wildcats so far.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Gasowski