Survive and advance.
With their season on the line, junior Cody Lofgren scored the golden goal in the 102nd minute as the Bradley soccer team beat Evansville 3-2 in the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference Championship Wednesday night.
The Braves advance to tonight’s semi-final at 6 p.m. at Shea Stadium against Drake. With a win, Bradley will advance to the MVC Championship game Sunday against the winner of the Missouri State and Southern Illinois Edwardsville match.
Coach Jim DeRose’s team will face an uphill battle against Drake, who beat the Braves 2-1 in Des Moines during the regular season. This will be Bradley’s third game in seven days, while the Bulldogs come in fresh having not played for a full week.
“We’re in our fifth game in ten days,” DeRose said. “So that’s our challenge. I think at this point in the year fitness is one thing, which is fine. We should be good there. It’s the accumulation of our backs having to play virtually every minute of the last two games. Hopefully, emotion and [being at] home can keep us competitive throughout.
“It’s a battle of attrition for us at this point. We expended a lot of energy [against Evansville]. Right now, we just have to be in a position to hang around long enough in this Drake game to make something happen.”
Bradley jumped ahead of Evansville 1-0 on a goal by Christian Okeke in the first minute. Senior Wojciech Wojcik played the ball ahead to senior Alon Badat, who made a perfect pass into open space to Okeke. The freshman did the rest sending a rocket past the Evansville keeper from 18-yards out.
It was a great start for the Braves, but they missed several scoring opportunities the remainder of the first half.
Evansville capitalized in the second half, scoring in the 58th and 63rd minutes to take a 2-1 lead.
But Bradley wasn’t ready for their season to end and rallied once again with the combination of Wojcik and Okeke. Wojcik played a ball down the right flank that Okeke gathered and dribbled into the penalty area. He shot a ball across the goal and inside the left post to tie the game with eight minutes left in regulation.
It was Okeke’s sixth goal of the season.
The two teams went through one overtime scoreless before Lofgren connected on the game-winner to advance the Braves to tonight’s contest.
Bradley and Evansville combined for 58 shots and the Purple Aces had 36 of those. It was the most shots by a Braves’ opponent since Milwaukee in 1990.