94 minutes and 40 seconds. 11 corners. Five shots. One goal. Simple as it sounds, the contest between UNC-Greensboro and Appalachian State University was anything but. The match was set at the perfect time; the sun slowly drifting beneath the trees lining Aycock and a brisk breeze moving through the crowd. While there seemed to be a level of excitement in the air as the referee blew his whistle to signal the beginning of the game, and fans waved Spartan banners; UNCG fell flat for most of the first half.
App State began the game with high energy as their forwards quickly penetrated into Spartan territory, causing trouble. Holding possession of the ball for the half, App got into an easy rhythm with their ball movement. When the Spartans did get possession of the ball, App’s backline held strong to deter any spark from lighting for the Spartans’ junior midfielder, Leeroy Maguraushe, who had a noticeable impact during the first half for the Spartans. Maguraushe has consistently wowed with his technical skills and his ability to stay strong on the ball even with heavy contact. Nelson Oceano, freshman midfielder, created the first real chance for the Spartans with a shot that went wide. While the effort did not land the team goals, the Spartans’ energy immediately burst for the last ten minutes of the half. Before the half ended, the Spartans proved themselves to be potentially dangerous on set pieces by making the most of their opportunities from free kicks and throw-ins.
While the first half was less than desirable, coach Justin Maullin commented during his half-time talk he reminded the team that “now it’s vital, season is starting Tuesday,” emphasizing the importance of focusing in to prepare themselves for conference play. With this in mind, the Spartans came out in the second half with vivacity. Noting seven corner kicks in the second half, once again making themselves dangerous on set-pieces. While the first half was lackluster, leaving fans with much to wish for, the second half certainly delivered. Junior defender Austin Matthews used his long throw-ins to create opportunities and when needed he quickly dropped back to hold the line consistently. Finishing a shot seemed to elude both teams for the half, but this did not shake the energy each team’s desire to score a last-minute goal.
As the second half ended, players from both sides tiredly jogged over to their benches to prepare themselves for the first half of overtime. The Spartans made overtime wins their personal mantra in the 2016 season, winning three games in over time, two of which were during conference play. Returning to the field, the boys looked calm and, to capitalize on any opportunity that came their way. Within the first three minutes of the match, the Spartans crossed the ball into the box. The ball skimmed inches away from sophomore forward Faisal Almubaslat’s head, slammed against the brick wall behind the goal, and the crowd groaned with defeat.
But then it happened. A cut back towards the goal and a shot. Blocked shot. Loose ball. Oceano saw his opportunity and took it with a light tap in. With that, the ball rolled and gently kissed the back of the net. In less than a second, the entire UNCG bench jumped up and sprinted to meet Oceano to celebrate the goal. Another overtime victory for the blue and gold.
Now on a three-game win and shutout streak, Coach Maullin feels confident in his team’s ability to mesh together more as the season goes on. The App State victory marks the end of non-conference play for the Spartans. The next match for UNCG will be against the Furman Paladins. Furman is a long-time rival of the Spartans, this year proving their strength with a victory over a ranked Wake Forest (1-0). While noting this could be seen as a rough start their season, Coach Maullin wants to remind his team that once conference play begins that you have to “throw records out,” because anything can happen during conference. Catch the Spartans at home on Sept. 30 with a sure-to-be classic against Furman at 7 p.m.