Many rivalry matches are ballyhooed and then fall short of expectations. Fredonia's 3-2 win over SUNYAC rival Buffalo State on Saturday lived up to its billing and more.
Blue Devils senior Ryan Keller powered home a header from Bryan Sibble's cross in the 87th minute, and Fredonia's defense held on through a nervy final three minutes to earn revenge for last year's 2-0 defeat to the Bengals.
"I was crashing the net because there were only about five minutes left, [Fredonia winger Bryan] Sibble beat a guy, and my eyes were glowing," explained Keller. "He saw me right there and put it on my forehead, and it went off the post. It was a little scary, but it went in."
The late goal sparked a raucous celebration between the Blue Devils and their bench, highlighted by the goal-scorer's mockery of the dab, the go-to move of Buffalo State leading scorer Bass Sarr.
"That was coming," Keller added. "[Sarr]'s been dabbing on everyone, so I had to put that to the end. No hard feelings to him - you've got to celly when you score, it helps out with self-esteem."
For the 300 fans in attendance, the game-winner was a fitting conclusion to hotly contested affair that saw nine yellow cards, an almost even split in shots (15-14 Fredonia) and near-constant berating of the center referee.
"This is probably one of the more incredible games I think I've ever been in in my life," said a still-kind-of-shocked Fredonia coach P.J. Gondek after the match. "I can't imagine what it was like to watch from the stands, because I could barely watch the game it was so nerve-wracking."
Fredonia's victory knots the Battle by the Lake score at 2, as the Buffalo State women's soccer team's victory earned the Bengals the first two points. More information can be found on that season-long competition here.
From the sideline: Coming off a tumultuous 3-12-3 season, Gondek badly needed a positive campaign - and some signature results - to prove the Fredonia program wasn't sinking.
"Let's be honest here, things haven't gone that well for us the last three years or so," Gondek, who's in his 17th year at the helm, admitted. "We've kind of had a lot of unfortunate things happen, but we needed a win like this to propel us forward because we have a lot of big games coming up."
Fredonia improves to 8-2-1 on the season, while Buffalo State drops to 7-3-1.
Breeze through the goals:
21', 1-0, Fredonia: The Blue Devils ticked the scoreboard first when center back David Trabold got a foot to a ball during a scrum on the six-yard box from a corner kick, tucking it to Buffalo State goalkeeper Will Banahene's right before he could react. Parker Healy was instrumental in the goal, peskily keeping the ball alive inside the 18-yard box.
54', 1-1: After a shaky start to the match, Mark Howlett's Bengals picked up steam later in the first half and into the second, and finally were rewarded when August Finn's lob into the box was met by Sarr, who beat Fredonia keeper Ty Bentham to the ball. While Fredonia players and coaches pleaded for a foul on Sarr, Buffalo State's leading scorer cranked the loose ball into the gaping goal from a fairly tight angle.
60', 2-1, Fredonia: The Blue Devils capitalized on the throw-in cannon of center back Brandon Butts, who launched the ball from the right sideline to Parker Healy's head, with enough oomph where the goal-scorer only needed to redirect and not add too much power himself.
75', 2-2: Buffalo State answered back for a second time, when Maissa Dieye's rip from just inside Fredonia's 18-yard box caromed off the crossbar and fell to Finn, well positioned at the left post. The sophomore forward struck the ball high over Bentham, first-time, from close range.
87', 3-2, Fredonia: We've already discussed Keller's goal at length, but it was smartly set up by Sibble, who darted in front of Buffalo State's Drew Johnson to intercept a pass and start a counter attack.
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Braun vs. Braun: One of the more meaningful storylines from Saturday's match was a game of brother vs. brother: Fredonia senior Keith Braun was on the opposite side of the field from younger brother Drew Braun, and nearly 20 family and friends were in the crowd for the occasion, several sporting larger-than-life cutout heads.
When Keith entered the Blue Devils' lineup in the 26th minute, he pushed forward for a corner kick, jockeying with his brother for position.
"There was a little shoving and nudging, but mostly love," Keith said after the game. "That's all it is. Him and I knew that coming into it we were going to battle, but at the end of the day, we're brothers. That's all it's gonna be."
Unsung heroes: Healy and Keller, now Fredonia's co-leaders in scoring with five goals and four assists apiece, stole the headlines, but Sibble was tremendous in the center of the park.
His energy and hustle at both ends made life difficult for Buffalo State captain Sammy Wasson, typically the engineer of the Bengals' attack. A 20-yard full sprint and hook-like slide tackle from behind on Wasson during the second half - where Sibble crucially got all ball - might have been more impressive than his winning assist.
Bentham, a freshman keeper from Columbus, Ind., battled well aerially and boldly claimed a handful of dangerous crosses. A 7-1 record and 1.80 goals-against average isn't shabby for a first-year player filling a recent trouble spot for Fredonia.
Buffalo State standouts: Burly Bengals goalkeeper William Banahene was unquestionably his side's man of the match despite allowing three goals. The senior was fearless against crosses and added seven saves to keep the game tight.
With his head wrapped in a bandage after a first-half collision, striker August Finn put in a shift, covering a huge amount of ground, getting stuck into challenges and earning his goal. Bucky Benyehuda and Tristan Myers both were solid for the Bengals, too.
SUNYAC effect: Both teams are now 2-1 in SUNYAC play, although Fredonia boasts the head-to-head tiebreaker. You can see the updated conference standings here.
"In the SUNYAC, it's hard to get yourself out of a 1-2 hole, so 2-1 is huge for us," Keith Braun said. "It's great to get our heads back on straight after the 6-1 loss to Geneseo earlier in the conference."
He said it, Part I: "Normally this is a game in the past we would have lost. This is the season that we're doing it, this is the season that we're coming back. We're resilient this year - we've got adversity, we're overcoming it, and that's the best thing about our team." - Keith Braun
He said it, Part II: "I love being a game player - it's all about game-breakers, baby." - Keller
Fredonia starting XI: Ty Bentham, Matt Casey, David Trabold, Brandon Butts, Sammy DeFranks; Ryan Keller, Brian Theuerkauf, Parker Healy, Bryan Sibble; Sam Greco, James Ritchie
Buffalo State starting XI: Will Banahene; Devonte Black, Danny Clavin, Drew Braun, Robert Aguilar-Lobo; Drew Johnson, Bucky Benyehuda, Sammy Wasson, Tristan Myers; August Finn, Bass Sarr
Email Ben Tsujimoto, who's had enough soccer for one weekend, at email@example.com