Jon Koka didn’t give up on the ball. With a long pass swirling in the wind, the Missouri State forward barreled down the pitch. And as Brett St. Martin failed to clear, he pounced, taking the ball in stride and slotting home past a helpless Jamie Lowell.
His strike was the culmination of a dramatic last five minutes, when Maryland men’s soccer saw a 1-0 deficit overturned. The Terps fell to the Bears, 2-1, crashing out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.
After a scoreless first 83 minutes, the game came alive in the 84th. Eric Matzelevich got Maryland on the board, heading home from a precise cross from Nick Richardson. But Koka responded shortly after, netting twice in the final five minutes to turn the game around and give Missouri State the win.
“Until the last five minutes of the game, I thought defensively we played a great game,” coach Sasho Cirovski said.
The Bears outshot the Terps, 17-10, and enjoyed the majority of the possession throughout the match. And though Maryland stuck around after an unsteady first half, lapses in the final minutes cost them the game.
The Terps had one last chance with seconds remaining, but Justin Harris launched his shot over the net, sealing a second straight second round exit from the tournament.
[Maryland men’s soccer is fresh for its NCAA tournament appearance]
Missouri State had the better of the play in the opening minutes. The Bears average the most corners in the nation, and they delivered on that promise, with two threatening Maryland within the first 15 minutes.
“They were like flying for the first first, like 30-35 minutes,” Matzelevich said.
Lowell was called into action in the 16th minute for the Terps, diving for a cross that got caught up in the wind, diverting it off the post and away from the net.
Still, Maryland created a few chances of its own. Freshman right back Kento Abe provided an outlet down the wing in his first career start, finding Brayan Padilla just outside the box — but his shot flew wide.
The Terps got a boost with the entrance of Paul Bin and Jacen Russell-Rowe. Both returning from injury, the duo injected pace into Maryland’s front line. It almost produced results immediately, as Bin forced an error from goalie Michael Creek.
“I think we were all a little antsy, a little nervous,” Bin said.
As the half wound down, though, Missouri State had the better of the looks. Nicolo Mulatero fired on net three times in the final 15 minutes, but Lowell equalled every opportunity. And, despite combining for 12 shots, the two teams went into the break scoreless.
“I thought Jamie was solid,” Cirovski said. “I don’t think he had much of a chance on either two goals.”
[Maryland men’s soccer secures at-large berth in NCAA tournament, will face Missouri State]
It was a sloppy start to the second half, as both teams were locked in a disjointed battle. Lowell sent a ball sailing out of bounds. Josh Dolling couldn’t quite find a teammate with a flicked pass. Harris’ ball to Richardson went wayward.
Maryland’s first look of the half came from Justin Gielen, who headed a Ben Bender dribble and service wide. Another back post header followed shortly after, but the ball missed once again.
As the second half went on, both teams exchanged chances. Dolling had a goal denied for offside. Bin, too, mistimed a run and saw the official’s flag rasied.
In the 77th minute, the Bears seemed certain to have taken a 1-0 lead. Aadne Bruseth rounded Lowell, and had an open net from a tight angle. Before he could shoot, Chris Rindov dove in and denied his attempt.
The game wouldn’t remain scoreless for long, though. Matzelevich’s 84th minute goal gave the Terps a 1-0 lead.
“The play was awesome, and to be honest, I thought we’d won it,” Bin said.
Koka quickly undid that advantage, firing home to knot the game at 1-1.
His goal four minutes later sealed it, and the Bears mobbed each other in celebration after a dramatic win.
Matzelevich, meanwhile, put his head in his hands, and walked off the field.
“We got a little bit sloppy at the end,” Cirovski said. “It’s that simple.”