NORTHRIDGE, Calif. — The Sacramento State men's soccer team mounted an inspiring comeback Wednesday night, overcoming a two-goal deficit to force overtime in the first round of the Big West tournament against CSUN. Unfortunately, it was CSUN who struck first in extra time, handing the Hornets a season-ending 3-2 loss.
CSUN scored early in the match, jumping on Sacramento State for a 2-0 lead through just six minutes. After a Hornet turnover at midfield, the Matadors' Jeremy Degraffenreidt lofted a ball up to the team's leading scorer Emmanuel Usen, Jr. Usen skipped the ball past James Del Curto for the match's first score in the fifth minute.
It was Degraffenreidt to Usen again less than a minute later as the duo combined for their second assist and goal of the night.
Down two goals to none, the Hornets looked like they might be done early. But a motivated team, lead by multiple starting seniors, rallied back.
Matt Carnefix cut the deficit in half for Sacramento State in the 28th minute. The Sacramento native teamed up with senior Cylus Sandoval, receiving the pass and sneaking by the CSUN defense. Carnefix sent a ground ball past the recovering CSUN keeper for the Hornets' first goal of the match.
Things were much quieter in the second half, although the Sacramento State offense started to show more activity. In the second half, the Hornets outshot the Matadors 9-4 and drew eight CSUN fouls. The aggressive play paid off in the 84th minute as Dominic Scotti delivered the equalizer from 10 yards out for Sacramento State. Carnefix assisted on the play, again involved in the Hornets' score.
"I'm really proud of my guys and the way they fought back," said head coach Mike Linenberger after the game. "Getting a goal back late at the end of the first half gave us a little hope, then fighting our way back in the second half and finding the late equalizer was great."
The goal forced a 2-2 tie and sent the match to overtime. Last year, Sacramento State and CSUN took a scoreless match to penalty kicks and for a moment, it looked like that might be the case again this year.
Instead, the Matadors received a bit of luck on a cross play, scoring on a deflection. After missing on a cross from Degraffenreidt, Usen unintetionally tipped the ball to his teammate Julio Rubio. Rubio drove the tipped ball straight back into Usen's shin. The ball deflected up off Usen and, somehow, up and over Del Curto into the net.
"A little unfortunate at the end with the deflection goal," added Lineneberger. "But also credit to Northridge. They've got some really explosive players who are a handful to deal with and they did well."
It was a three-point match for Carnefix, who scored his four goal and tallied his fifth assist on the year. Del Curto, in what was his final game as a Hornet, made five saves, moving him into third all-time in program history.
Each team took 15 shots in the match, but CSUN lead in shots on frame 8-7. CSUN also held the edge in corner kicks, leading 8-5, including a 6-1 advantage in the second half.
For the second straight season, CSUN knocked the Hornets out of the Big West Tournament. With the win, the Matadors advance to the semifinal against the North Division's No. 1 seed UC Davis.
The 2017 Hornets featured a young cast of starters and put together an impressive season despite losing many of their biggest starters from last season. Justin Bedig and Tyler Moss, both named to the Big West All-Freshman team, had excellent rookie campaigns. Sophomore Christian Webb took a major step forward as an offensive weapon for the Hornets.
The team's eight wins were one shy of their 2016 total, but for the first time since joining the Big West in 2012, Sacramento State advanced to back-to-back conference tournaments.