For once, it wasn't Russell Cicerone who played hero for the University at Buffalo Bulls.
Swedish center back David Enstrom poked in a loose ball from five yards out in the 81st minute on a scrum off a Rikard Lindqvist corner kick, giving the Bulls just enough offense to prevail with a 1-0 victory over the Canisius Golden Griffins at Demske Sports Complex on Sunday.
With the win, UB keeps the Big 4 Shield, having now fended off all three local Division I foes since wresting the hardware from Canisius on Sept. 1, 2015. The importance of protecting the shield was not lost on UB head coach Stu Riddle.
"It means everything," the fourth-year Bulls head coach said after the win. "We want to be the flagship institution in town. We were very proud to win the shield last year, and now we look forward to defending it against other local rivals."
Niagara's chance to capture the plaque against UB comes on Sept. 15, while St. Bonaventure's arrives six days later, should the Purple Eagles falter.
[Look back at the match's big moments, video included, at BN Soccer's Twitter account]
CONTROVERSIAL GOAL?: Lindqvist's whipped in, in-swinging corner kick sparked havoc in the Canisius 18-yard box, as an initial deflection bounced to Cicerone, who flailed at an overhead kick without making solid contact, before the ball deflected off a Griffin to a pleasantly surprised Enstrom.
Replays from Time Warner Cable's broadcast of the match (not clear to fans watching live) indicated that Enstrom settled the ball with his hand before tapping it in, but he disagreed.
"I don't think so, no," said Enstrom, the 6'2 defender who registered his third career goal. "It was fast, but I don't think so."
GRIFFINS BRIGHT FOR 45: Canisius head coach Dermot McGrane game-planned to put the Bulls on their heels - one way of neutralizing Cicerone, the returning Mid-American Conference Player of the Year - and his side succeeded over the first 45 minutes, peppering Joseph Kuta's goal with shots and harnessing most of the possession.
Although he was predictably glum about the result, McGrane was positive about his squad's performance.
"I think we were by far the better team throughout the game, first half especially," McGrane said. "Second half, they got a bit more into it, but they tried to press us and we broke the pressure every time, and they didn't really threaten us - I didn't ever feel like they looked like they were going to score - and I thought we created a bunch of good chances.
"Some days you score, some days you don't."
Junior midfielder Mathew Santos was the Griffs' most lively attacker, forcing two difficult saves from Kuta in the game's first 15 minutes and later completing a wall-pass with Melvin Blair to put his Jamaican teammate in alone on goal.
Just as Blair looked destined to round the goalkeeper and give Canisius the lead, Kuta lunged to his right, extended one hand with perfect timing and pulled the ball out without tripping Blair.
KUTA CLUTCH: While his stop on Blair was highlight-reel worthy, Kuta was troubled more in the first half by Canisius' aggressiveness and Mother Nature, as UB's returning starter from the run to the Mid-American Conference title game wore a baseball cap to contend with the brilliant sun shining straight into his eyes. Kuta was prepared.
"The baseball cap helped a lot, but I just stayed composed - you know they're going to hit it in as much as possible, so you just have to keep your back-line organized and composed as well, and when the ball comes in, you just take it as it comes, just don't overthink it."
The junior did well to parry most of the rebounds he conceded toward the sideline or out of bounds.
GAME FLOW: The significance and intensity of rivalry matches, especially when there's hardware on the line, tend to produce some ugly affairs.
Sunday night's clash featured relatively few periods of sustained possession, only a couple glimpses of flair and frankly more complaining to the center referee than quality soccer.
"I think it was one of the ugliest college soccer games I've seen in a long, long time," Riddle admitted after the match. "There wasn't a lot of quality play from either team and in all honesty, when there was quality play, it was from the team in white and the team in blue.
"But, look, over the years we've had a lot of games not go our way, where we've dominated, and it's nice to be on the back foot for most of the game and come away with a victory away from home."
The manner in which UB kept the Big 4 Shield didn't bother Kuta too much.
"Coming out with a 1-0 win in a grind-it-out game, even though we don't play our best sometimes, it feels great."
REIGNING PREP TALK PoY DEBUTS: Canisius' Troy Brady, The Buffalo News' Prep Talk Player of the Year for boys soccer, made his home debut in the 25th minute after starting on the road against Binghamton in the opener.
The Grand Island High School alum played the entire second half, too, for a total of 65 minutes, and his effort and pace as the lone striker created space for fellow attackers.
"It was definitely a really cool experience, especially in the home opener against UB for the Big 4 [Shield]," Brady said of his feelings after the match. "It's a bummer, but it felt good to get on the field, though."
Comfortable as a second striker and on the wing, Brady has embraced a slightly different role as a freshman.
"Coach definitely likes me up there because of my pace - I definitely need to get bigger, especially at this level, but I thought I played well, but I could be better, obviously. I just have to find the net."
BN SOCCER'S MEN OF THE MATCH:
UB - Joseph Kuta, GK
Canisius - Mathew Santos, midfielder
UB Bulls (2-0): Joseph Kuta; Austin Place, David Enstrom, Fox Slotemaker, Alec Fisher; Russell Cicerone, Daniel Cramarossa, Rikard Lindqvist, Braden Scales; Scott Doney, Steven Stryker
Subs used: Braden Culver, Nick Forrester, Tommy Fogarty-Cameron
Canisius Griffins (0-2): Marco Trivellato; Bjarki Benediktsson, Alex Grattarola, Thomas Teupen, Jake Montante; Mo Kretschmer, Lucian Preis, Melvin Blair, Mathew Santos, Eric Strauchen; Hakeem Milson
Subs used: Troy Brady, Evan Walsh, Mitch Cancilla
WHAT'S NEXT: The Bulls are home at 10 a.m. Friday for a match against Stony Brook, while Canisius also plays Friday at home for a 7 p.m. clash against Incarnate Word.
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who's day-to-day with unexpected sunburn, at email@example.com