Carroll’s Header Puts Spartans into Sweet Sixteen

On a wet and slippery field, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies and Michigan State Spartans battled for 90 minutes to see who would advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

This game would be a rematch after Oakland beat Michigan State 2-0 in Rochester, Michigan during the regular season.

“Honestly we tried to taper [the earlier regular season loss]” head coach Damon Rensing said. “We knew our guys were going to be really fired up for this game.”

From the opening kickoff, the Spartans put the pressure on the Golden Grizzly defense by creating early chances inside the box off set pieces and through balls.

Oakland would quickly change that and create an attack of their own as junior forward, Gerald Ben, would have two great looks in the 11th and 14th minute which forced junior goalkeeper, Zach Bennett, to come up with two huge saves early.

“Zach was spot on just with his decision making, when to catch, when to punch, when to stay on his line and that was great,” Rensing said. “I think that instills confidence in our back four.”

The two sides would keep going back and forth for the next 20 minutes, but would not see great scoring chances until the 35th minute when Michigan State senior forward, Adam Montague, would rip a curling shot inside the box to the near post which would force Oakland freshman goalkeeper, Wes Mink to make a diving save.

“After the first five games we didn’t really have an identity as a team,” Oakland senior defender John DeLeon said. “Coach [Pogue] really brought us all together and said let’s start with defending because you can’t get beat if you don’t get scored on.”

The teams would go into halftime scoreless, with the Spartans outshooting the Golden Grizzlies 10-8, but Oakland would have the better scoring opportunities in the first half.

“When we got to halftime, I knew we would be able to regroup and then just get to some second balls [and] get the ball wide,” Rensing said. “Just get the guys to calm down, I thought we did that better early in the second half.”

In the second half, for the first 20 minutes, both teams would again go back and forth, and then in the 67th minute, MSU would earn a corner kick and the corner from sophomore midfielder, Dewey Lewis, would find the head of junior defender, Zach Carroll, who would finish to put the Spartans up 1-0.

“We had a nice play to get a corner kick and I picked my spot where I wanted to go and I was hoping the ball would clear Adam’s head and luckily he went up and it went over him,” Carroll said. “Kylie [Stannard] was joking with me before the game, he was telling me that I need to start heading the ball down because I kept hitting them over the goal in practice and so I just wanted to get a nice firm header down and on the slick surface it skipped in right past him.”

After the goal, Michigan State would have a few more looks at goal, but Oakland would start to press late in the second half, which kept the Spartan defense busy.

Bennett would have to punch away a few more corners and free kicks, and on one free kick he would go up and make a one-handed grab to keep the ball in bounds and away from the opposition in the box.

“(The ball) was kind of bouncing around and the guy kind of turned and hit it and deflected a little bit,” Bennett said. “I popped my right hand up and went up in the air and one of their guys started bodying me up and I couldn’t really pull my left hand up so I just kept bobbling it to myself. I am sure I scared the bejeezus out of the coaching staff.”

Oakland would not have any good looks at goal after that and Michigan State would go on to win 1-0.

“Soccer is a game of chances, and today Michigan State finished one more chance than us,” Oakland head coach, Eric Pogue said. “I thought for large stretches of the game we played really well and controlled a lot of the play. The game is a game of chances and we didn’t finish ours.”

The Spartans will host the University of Washington on Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. at DeMartin Stadium in the Sweet Sixteen. The Huskies are coming off a 110 minute game that went into penalty kicks against Furman University. The Spartans and Huskies met in the preseason earlier this year with Washington winning 1-0.

Brooks Laimbeer is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports