South Bend, Ind. – Battling the cold weather and a frozen field, the Spartans fought all the way to the end, but the Fighting Irish held strong and came away with the win.
“Michigan State and Notre Dame have been the two best teams in the Great Lakes Region virtually all year, and Notre Dame has always been No. 1 and we have been No. 2,” head coach Damon Rensing said.
The Irish came out with a lot of pressure right from the start by possessing the ball in the Spartans’ half for the majority of the first half and keeping goalkeeper Zach Bennett on his toes.
Notre Dame’s first good scoring chance came in the 22nd minute, when senior forward Harrison Shipp took a shot from just outside the 18-yard-box and the ball banged off the top of the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Eight minutes later, the Irish had another scoring chance off a corner kick, and sophomore midfielder, Evan Panken, scored off a loose ball in the 18-yard-box after the Spartans failed to clear the ball out of the box.
“You don’t want to give up goals on restarts, but I think to their credit it bounced around and they finished it,” Rensing said.
Going into the second half, the Irish had a lot of the momentum and two minutes into the second half, sophomore midfielder, Patrick Hodan, hit a low-bending ball towards the far post and hit off the inside of the post and went in to make it 2-0.
“We maybe scored the second goal too early because it gave them time because you think you are comfortable with 2-0,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said.
Down 2-0, the Spartans increased the pressure from their offense and started to create more chances.
In the 58th minute, the Spartans strung together a few passes to move the ball into the Irish final third, where redshirt junior Tim Kreutz found sophomore Jay Chapman, who headed the ball past the Irish goalkeeper, Patrick Wall.
“It was pretty much a team build-up goal…I mean Timmy was on the wing, and Timmy has been great all year with service and scoring goals,” Chapman said. “I thought ‘You know maybe, what if?’ And he delivered a perfect ball and I mean it just fell to my head and all I had to do was flick it on.”
The Spartans continued the pressure and had a few scoring opportunities, but the best one came with one minute left in the game when redshirt senior Brent McIntosh played a crossed ball to the near post where Kreutz ran onto it and flicked it into the goal post.
“(Notre Dame) are clearly a top one to four team in the country and in order to beat one of the top four teams in the country you need the ball to go in off a post and maybe not to give up a goal in the second half, but when you look at the whole game, our guys were great. Very proud of our guys,” Rensing said.
The Irish will go on to play the University of New Mexico in the semifinals on Friday, December 13 in Chester, PA.
The Spartans finished their season 14-6-3 recording the most victories in program history for a single season.
Brooks Laimbeer is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales