On a wet night at Ulrich Sports Complex, Lehigh men’s soccer played even with the No. 3 team in the nation, West Virginia, in a 1-1 draw.
Senior standout Josh Luchini scored the equalizing goal in the 75 minute on a penalty kick that skimmed the top of the crossbar before hitting the back of the net.
Starting goalie Noah Sutherland was injured in the first minute of action after Yoran Popovic scored a goal for West Virginia, causing Sutherland to be placed under concussion protocol.
“That was more about character, grit, determination and toughness then it was about playing good soccer,” coach Koski said. “We gave up a goal in the first minute and we could have easily buckled against the No. 3 (team in the nation). At the same moment we lost Noah (Sutherland) as a keeper to the concussion, but our guys responded really well and competed really well.”
Sophomore Blake Koski came in and played 109 minutes of flawless goalkeeping, keeping a clean sheet for the duration of the game.
West Virginia took 25 shots and seven shots were on target, but Koski made all six saves and Lehigh’s defense held strong.
Lehigh defended 12 corner kicks throughout the game, all coming in the second half or overtime.
“I’m pleased in the way we defended their set pieces,” Koski said. “I think that was an area we needed to focus on and I thought we did a really good job managing corner kicks and restarts in our box.”
Lehigh was able to dig down and compete with one of the top programs in the country on defense while displaying quick counterattacks on offense.
In the second half the Mountain Hawks were able to push forward on a counterattack which allowed Luchini to go on a run and create the best chance Lehigh would have all game, a penalty shot in the 75 minute.
Luchini confidently lined up for the penalty and struck the shot straight down the middle at the top of the goal. The goalkeeper anticipated Luchini would shoot left and jumped that way before turning his head to see the ball go straight through the net.
With the game tied at one, Lehigh had to defend for 15 more minutes of regulation and 20 more minutes of overtime to secure the tie.
“It’s definitely a grind when you have to sit back a little bit and defend a tie,” Luchini said. “But against the No. 3 team in the country, it’s a win for us any day of the week.”
Lehigh’s defense was anchored by the play of sophomore Hassane Diakho, who won Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week on Oct. 3. In front of him was senior Michael Tahiru who was able to control the ball and make key tackles throughout the contest.
After 90 minutes of grueling and physical action, both teams were fatigued in overtime, but Lehigh was able to maintain enough energy to keep the Mountaineers from scoring.
“It’s always nice to have your hard work pay off,” Luchini said. “Especially after the early goal against the No. 3 team in the country we could have just hung our heads, but for one of the first times all season we were able to battle back and get that equalizing goal.”
Lehigh’s next match is on Oct. 10 at Holy Cross, and then they play Lafayette at Ulrich Complex on Oct. 16 in a rivalry game.