It was the 71st minute of the game with no score in Bradley’s first contest of the season, against defending Summit League champion Omaha. Maverick senior defender Dominik Danis had just been sent off for a second yellow card after fouling sophomore Danny Collins 35 yards away from the goal.
The Bradley crowd erupted as the ball was placed at the spot of the foul and stomped their feet on the bleachers in excitement. They realized a game-changing play might have just happened.
Freshman Jack Douglas fired a thunderous strike toward the goal on the free-kick and rattled the crossbar. Freshman Patrick Fishburne headed the rebound back into the box where fellow freshman Jake Schoffstall applied the finishing touch to give Bradley the go-ahead goal and eventually the win.
The goal was Schoffstall’s second of his Braves’ career and his first at home.
The excitement could be felt throughout Shea Stadium, from the Braves bench to the top of the bleachers as all the Bradley faithful were on its feet celebrating the goal with the players on the field.
“Show me how a team celebrates goals and it will tell you a lot about the team,” head coach Jim DeRose said. “It was special, it was genuine, it was passionate.”
From that point on, the 500 people at Shea Stadium stayed loud to push the team through the last 20 minutes. Every ball in the last third, corner kick, hustle play, loose ball or turnover was followed by claps, cheers and stomping.
“There [are] things that people say all the time about blocking out the noise but in college, players feed off the crowd and the energy,” DeRose said. “It is the proverbial 12th man for us and they could not wait [to] go out and celebrate with them.”
The Braves struggled to keep the game scoreless in the first half, however. Omaha mustered nine shots with three on target in the first 45 minutes, compared to Bradley’s zero shots. Senior goalkeeper and reigning MVC Goalkeeper of the Year Bryce Logan pulled off two great saves on Maverick midfielder Tevin Rochester to keep the score null.
“[Goalkeeper] is the one position we’re not young in,” DeRose said. “He has been a foundation for us and as long as we have him, we have a chance.”
DeRose’s men would walk back into the locker room knowing there was a tall task ahead. With 26 seasons of coaching in college under his belt he had seen teams crumble after holding on tight to a draw.
The Braves needed some tactical changes to clog up spaces in their backline. Those proved to be successful, as the Mavericks only managed to shoot five times in the second half with only a tame effort by senior striker Hugo Kametani on goal.
“We were able to keep them from crazy dangerous spots,” DeRose said. “They were playing some passes they were not comfortable with. They were trying to play behind us and I think that helped us because we are pretty athletic in the back.”
Those adjustments paid off and the second half was a little more balanced. The Braves were able to break through Omaha’s side more consistently and were finally able to score their goal with under 20 minutes left in the game.
The Braves opened their season in splendor against an opponent that won an NCAA tournament game last season. With discipline and resilience, the Braves bent but did not break and converted their chance when the opening presented itself.
Bradley was in Dayton, Ohio yesterday to face Wright State before heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a matchup against Oral Roberts on Monday. The Braves will be back at Shea Stadium next Friday to face the DePaul Blue Demons.