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Northern Illinois Athletics | October 9, 2021

Northern Illinois men's soccer upsets No. 4 West Virginia, hands Mountaineers first loss

Marshall men's soccer coach Chris Grassie reflects on last season's Cinderella championship run

A first half goal from Adrian Lara (Shorewood, Ill./Joliet Township) and a second half tally from Eddie Knight (Frisco, Texas/Lone Star) helped the Northern Illinois University men's soccer team to a 2-0 victory over previously unbeaten, fourth-ranked West Virginia on Saturday afternoon (Oct. 9) at the NIU Soccer Complex. 

Huskie goalkeeper Martin Sanchez (Bloomington, Minn./Kennedy) made three saves in the contest as NIU picked up its ninth consecutive win and its seventh straight shutout. With the win, NIU improves to 10-1 on the season, 2-0 in Mid-American Conference play, West Virginia falls to 6-1-4 overall, 0-1-1 in the MAC.

The fourth-ranked Mountaineers are the highest-ranked opponent NIU has beaten since knocking off second-ranked SMU, 1-0, on Sept. 19, 2008. 

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"I thought we were really good in the first half; we created a lot of good chances and West Virginia defended pretty well," said NIU head coach Ryan Swan. "It is those moments, we have talked about it, set pieces can be the difference and obviously (Adrian Lara) getting his first goal of the year, stepped up huge for us."

NIU was on the front-foot from the opener whistle as Nick Markanich (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) forced a pair of saves from West Virginia goalkeeper Steven Tekesky inside the opening five minutes. 

Moments later, Tekesky was nearly caught out as a harmless looking cross from Malcom Ward (Youngs, Australia/Newington College) bounced over the head of Tekesky and off the crossbar. NIU collected the ball off the bar, but the Huskies were unable to capitalize. 

The breakthrough came in the 35th minute as a corner whipped in by Adrian Corona (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield Central) found the head of Markanich who powered a header down, forcing a good reaction save by Tekesky. The Mountaineer goalkeeper could not hold it however and Lara was the first to pounce, flicking the ball beyond a diving Tekesky into the back of the net to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. 

Lara's goal was his first of the season and the fourth of his NIU career. 

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West Virginia's only attempt of the opening half came less than a minute after the goal when Ryan Crooks had a shot from outside the box blocked as NIU took a one-goal advantage into the interval. 

After halftime, the Mountaineers had their best spell, beginning with a chance for Tony Pineda in the 49th minute. Pineda got in behind the NIU defense and looked to slide a shot under Sanchez from 12 yards, but the Huskie goalkeeper was a save with his feet to keep the Huskies in front. Moments later, Ryan Crooks danced around the outside of the Huskie defense and fired a low shot from outside the box that was claimed by Sanchez. 

In the 66th minute, Zachariah Thomas (Burnaby, British Columbia/Moscrop Secondary) whipped a cross in just outside the six-yard box. Markanich got a head on it but couldn't direct his header on target as Tekesky scrambled the ball away. 

Just two minutes later, West Virginia played a corner short before firing a cross toward the penalty spot. Bjarne Thiesen redirected it toward the bottom corner of the net, but Sanchez got across and made an outstanding save to keep the Huskie clean sheet intact. 

With less than three minutes to play, NIU added a second as Knight scored his first career goal. After a good spell of possession for NIU, with West Virginia pressing in desperation regain the ball to look for an equalizer, Miguel Maynez Jr. (El Paso, Texas/New Mexico) played an excellent ball over the top into the run of Knight. The Frisco, Texas native, took a touch off his head to move inside the box and then flicked the ball over an onrushing Tekesky into the back of the net, sending the Huskies into delirium. 

Tekesky finished with four saves in goal for West Virginia, who dropped its first game of the season. 

The victory was NIU's fourth-straight over a ranked opponent dating back to last season. The streak of wins over ranked foes began with back-to-back wins against Akron, taking down the 15th-ranked Zips, 3-0, on March 14, 2021, in DeKalb and the 21st-ranked Zips, 3-1, on April 4, 2021, in Akron. NIU also topped 18th-ranked Marquette, 3-0, earlier this season in DeKalb (Sept. 10). 

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With its shutout of West Virginia, NIU has now gone 681:33 without conceding a goal and its seven straight shutouts is the longest streak for the Huskies since a streak of seven in a row between Sept. 21-Oct. 14, 2005. The 10th victory of the season marks the 16th double-digit win campaign in program history, the first since winning 15 games in 2011. 

"I said to the guys the most important thing was the three points and not to get caught up in the opponent and their national ranking. But now that we have the three points, we can reflect on the fact that we beat the number four team in the country. (It is) absolutely tremendous and I think the guys earned it."

NIU will be back in action at home next Saturday night, Oct. 16, when the Huskies host Bowling Green. Kickoff against the Falcons is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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