Spartans Edge Wolverines in Battle for the Big Bear

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EAST LANSING, Mich. – In the Battle for Big Bear on Sunday afternoon, the Michigan State men’s soccer team (5-1-0, 2-0-0 B1G) had to endure a nervy second half against rival Michigan (0-4-3, 0-3-0 B1G), but won 1-0 thanks to a header from junior midfielder Brad Centala.

MSU dominated the early stages of the game, putting the Michigan defense on the back foot from the start of the match. Junior midfielder Ken Krolicki was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week last Tuesday, and he lived up to the title in the first half. Most of the Spartans’ play in the first half went through Krolicki, whose creative ability was on full display.

The goal came eight minutes in from a long throw in on the far side taken by senior right back Dewey Lewis, which bounced in the Michigan penalty area and was flicked on by junior defender Jimmy Fiscus. Centala was there to power home the half volley with his right foot before running to the Red Cedar Rowdies on the nearside stands.

It was the first goal of the season for the defensive midfielder, who considered himself lucky to score the only goal of the match.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Centala. “Today was perfect, we always get a good crowd here, but especially this game, it’s very nice.”

The second half brought on more pressure for the Wolverines, as substitute midfielder Robbie Mertz and forward Francis Atuahene led the charge for a revamped Michigan attack. MSU struggled to keep the ball in the second half of the game as Michigan pushed forward, and it took a couple of important saves from junior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague to keep U of M off the board.

The rest of the defense was scrambling with twelve minutes to go, as a cutback intended for Michigan forward Yamann Sahlool was scrambled away by freshman defender Michael Wetungu off of the crossbar before being put behind for a corner. With nine and a half minutes left, Atuahene was put through one on one with Hague, who came out to cut down the angle and saved with his torso as the forward attempted to slide the ball under the Walled Lake, Mich. keeper.

A last-gasp effort for the Wolverines came from freshman Jack Hallahan, as the British forward blazed just over from the edge of the box with 25 seconds left in the match. Hallahan was Michigan’s best player on the day up top, as senior defender Lars Eckenridge dealt well with the MSU attack in the second half.

Krolicki’s influence was limited in the second half, although his contribution to the attacking play in the first half would likely have put the Spartans two or three goals ahead on a different day. The entire MSU defense delivered for head coach Damon Rensing on the day, as MSU secured its third straight clean sheet, and started 2-0 in Big Ten play for the first time in school history.

Their next game is at fourth-ranked Maryland, at 7 p.m. in College Park on Sept. 23.