It wasn't pretty, but the Fredonia men's soccer team earned a hard-fought point in a 1-1 draw versus Buffalo State on Saturday at Coyer Field.
Less than two minutes after Buffalo State's August Finn broke a scoreless second-half deadlock by lifting a rebound over committed Fredonia goalkeeper Ty Bentham, Blue Devils' sophomore Matt Belardi pounced on a Bengals mistake and fed forward Ryan Ross for a tap-in.
Buffalo State dominated the statistical categories, out-shooting Fredonia 24-8 overall, 11-5 on frame, and winning possession at an estimated 65-35 clip, but both SUNYAC sides emerged with a point.
"Today, we showed we're up for the challenge," said Fredonia head coach P.J. Gondek. "It wasn't perfect, it wasn't pretty, we probably didn't have the ball as much as they did. That's OK with us - it's how we play. We look to counter - it's kind of how we have to play this particular year."
Considering his team's youth - Fredonia starts five seniors and six underclassmen - Gondek seemed proud of the effort, even though it didn't match the three points earned from last year's dramatic Battle by the Lake.
"We're a different team than we were last year," he explained. "Last year, most games we started eight or nine seniors. It's kind of like Buff State is this year - we kind of flipped things around a bit."
Buffalo State may rue the missed chance at two more points, but Mark Howlett's Bengals remain undefeated in SUNYAC play with a 1-0-2 record. Fredonia, at 0-2-1, still has an uphill climb ahead.
"Anything is important right now," said Fredonia center back Jackson Retzer, BN Soccer's man of the match, of the point. "We need to turn it around - we have to get some W's here."
*1-0, Buffalo State, 56': After a first half that featured little possession and near constant 50-50 battles, the Bengals jumped in front off a goalkeeping blunder. Daemen College transfer Ali Shawish dribbled daringly in traffic, making his way into Fredonia's 18-yard box and having a try at goal. The deflected shot squirted to Bentham, who made the initial stop but left a juicy rebound for August Finn to calmly flip into the goal from five yards out.
*1-1, 58': Fredonia didn't fold after conceding, and Gondek's squad was alert to pounce on a mistake. A mental lapse by the right side of the Buffalo State defense off a throw-in allowed Belardi to sprint down the right side with a two-on-one. The sophomore slid a square ball across to Ryan Ross, who had enough time to settle and pick an opening to beat Bengals goalkeeper Andy Queen.
For Buffalo State:
*11': Bentham was called upon for a tremendous reaction save early as Buffalo State's Shawish received a switch from Luke Pavone, who'd beaten three defenders on a 30-yard gallop up field.
On the right wing, Shawish ran at Fredonia's Dan Griffin, striking a ball toward Pavone's run to the middle of the box - the Blue Devil defender got a piece of the cross, knocking it awkwardly toward his own near post, where Bentham dove to thwart the chance.
*49': Sammy Wasson began to put his imprint on the game in the middle 30 minutes, and he almost put his team in front with a clever fake kick with his right and roll to his left in the 18-yard box. The Clarence High School alum curled his left-footed shot off a defender and inches wide of the left post.
*79': Luke Pavone struck a driven free kick toward lurking center back Robert Williamson, who rose to meet the ball but was beaten to the service by a charging Bentham, who did well to punch away from danger.
*87': A pretty return pass against the grain from Wasson to fullback Devonte Black gave the converted striker a good look at goal - his low shot was deflected and rolled wide of a relieved Bentham.
*96': Finn's persistence opened up a chance for Wasson, who put some mustard on his shot from just inside the 18, but again Bentham's strong hands were there to corral - without a rebound, this time.
*99': At the tail end of the first overtime, Pavone freed himself on the left, serving in a dangerous cross through the heart of the box toward Finn. Fredonia senior David Trabold intervened at the perfect moment, knocking Finn off balance with a strong challenge and winning the ball.
*107': Wasson anticipated a pass out of the back from Fredonia, jumping the route and careening toward the Blue Devils' goal. Instead of shooting, the captain tried to cut past Retzer, only to see the last defender get enough of the ball to throw him off stride.
*110': Three straight long throws from Bengals right back Zach Caruso put Fredonia under pressure in the final minute. The final toss fell to Maissa Dieye for a split second, and the Buffalo State forward's poke toward goal was blocked by Retzer on the goal line before the horn sounded.
*18': A long ball hoofed over the top by Fredonia met the run of freshman Pa Lu, who brought the ball down gracefully but was unable to beat Queen from in close. The Bengals keeper did well to leave his line and narrow the angle.
*64': Roughly five minutes after evening the match, Fredonia nearly soared in front. Fantastic vision from Lu, whose well-weighted diagonal ball found Belardi, but Queen snuffed out the sophomore's shot, too.
*101': Pa Lu had a golden chance to win the game at the beginning of the second overtime. Fredonia won a second ball in deep, and Lu's off-the-ball run was rewarded, putting him in alone on Queen. Again, the Buffalo State keeper was up to the challenge, although the International Prep alum - whom Gondek said was "real class" today - could not put much oomph on his shot.
"We needed to keep it close and get our chance," said Gondek. "Pa Lu had that chance in the box and I thought for sure he was going to bury it."
"I honestly thought we were going to pull it out in the second overtime with all those long balls played in," Retzer echoed, "but [a point] is better than nothing, so we'll take it and try to move on from there."
*FREDONIA STINGY DEFENSIVELY: The Blue Devils survived by the "bend but don't break" philosophy, as Retzer, senior center back David Trabold, right back Matt Casey and left backs Sam Wagner and Dan Griffin all had sturdy outings in their defensive third.
Bentham's 10 saves were complemented by smart punches and aggressive challenges when Buffalo State wingers - especially Devonte Black - would turn the corner at the end line and threaten with crosses into the six-yard box.
"[Buffalo State] had a lot of skilled players in the middle," commented Retzer, a freshman out of Williamsville North High School and FC Buffalo Academy. "We didn't lunge as much and had to stay in front of the ball to not put so much pressure on us in the back. Keeping them wide was one of the big things, [with] nothing near the net."
Retzer has previous experience at center back, but he's also played outside back and center midfield for Fredonia this year. Gondek explained after the match why he deployed the freshman in the middle.
"We needed a little more communication between our center backs," the head coach said. "[Matt] Casey has been dangerous as a right back - even though he doesn't really go forward, he has the ball a lot and can strike a good ball, so we needed a different look.
"[Retzer] has settled in quite nicely," Gondek continued. "He's had a couple mistakes along the way but today was his best game. He's playing against some really experienced players at Buff State, and for him to hold his own was a real strong performance."
*AMERICAN SOCCER: Throughout much of the match, Fredonia was content to clear the ball from danger and play searching long balls, appearing uninterested in building through the midfield. The approach limited the Blue Devils' ability to break down the Bengals back line.
"Once we win the ball and have it put down, we need to possess the ball and try to swing the ball around and wear them down and let them chase instead of always trying to go deep, but this is our game-plan so we're going to stick to it," said Retzer, referring to the team's defend-and-counter style.
*INJURY NOTE: Parker Healy, the East Aurora High School alum and top returning offensive player, was limited to the first 17:15 of the match as a result of an injury he's nursed much of the season.
*FINAL WORD: "It's always going to be tough to come to Buffalo State and get any sort of result. It keeps us [in contention] a little longer - it's hard to say what this season is going to bring. I'd like to have us to stay in it enough - on the last weekend of the season, we New Paltz and Oneonta at home - to have a chance to make the playoffs. If we can do that, that's great." - PJ Gondek, Fredonia head coach
Buffalo State: Andy Queen; Devonte Black, Robert Williamson, Danny Clavin, Zach Caruso; Luke Pavone, Sammy Wasson, Bucky Benyehuda, Ali Shawish; Sofiane Hamadi, August Finn. Subs used: Victor Powell, Maissa Dieye, Josh Beshaw, Tony Roncone.
Fredonia: Ty Bentham; Dan Griffin, David Trabold, Jackson Retzer, Matt Casey; Aaron Hayes, Parker Healy, Dylan Moeser, Matt Belardi; Pa Lu, Ryan Ross. Subs used: Noah Gittleman, Conrad Rathbun, Sam Wagner, Chad Gilson.