Dan Kinvig, UFV Athletics
ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – A highly intense, relentlessly physical local derby went the Trinity Western Spartans' way on Sunday afternoon, as they fended off a furious rally from the UFV Cascades to win 3-2.
The Spartans built a 3-0 lead at MRC Sports Complex on goals by Austin Kasian, Cody Fransen and Domenic Poletto, but the Cascades battled back on the strength of Gurmaan Jhaj's Canada West-leading 11th and 12th goals of the season.
TWU repelled a series of Cascades chances in the dying minutes to improve to 7-1-4, good for second in the Pacific Division. Third-place UFV is 6-4-1.
The two teams combined for nine yellow cards – five for the Cascades, four for the Spartans – as the local rivalry continued to simmer.
"It was an intense game – it's what we expected, we knew it was going to be like that," UFV head coach Tom Lowndes said afterward. "I thought our decision-making cost us tonight. We made some bad decisions with the ball in the defensive middle-third, and they've punished us. The goals they've scored have come from mistakes by us, and we have to be better if we're going to get to where we want to be.
"I'm proud of the effort and the fight-back towards the end, and I thought we were unlucky with one off the bar and one off the line. But we didn't help ourselves tonight, that's for sure."
The Cascades, seeking to avenge Friday's 2-1 loss to the Spartans in Langley, had a great look in the 36th minute to open the scoring. Jhaj's free kick took a deflection on its way into the box and required a diving save by TWU keeper Sebastian Colyn. The Cascades had two more cracks in the ensuing scramble, but both were blocked by Spartans defenders.
The visitors broke the ice in added time just before the halftime break. Domenic Poletto's free kick from just outside the box took a sharp turn off the body of teammate Kasian and eluded UFV keeper David Hicks.
The Spartans made it 2-0 in the 60th minute, as Aidan Moore came down the right wing and sent a pass to Fransen in the middle of the box. He took a touch, spun, and sent a shot into the bottom corner past Hicks.
Poletto further expanded the TWU lead in the 67th, taking a pass from Jacob Low, getting around a Cascades defender, and firing a rising shot inside the far post.
UFV defender Tyler Henderson came off the bench in the 79th minute to help the hosts turn the tide. Shortly after entering, he drew a foul in the box on a long throw-in by Atle Koellmel, yielding a penalty kick for Jhaj to slot home.
The Cascades drew to within a goal in the 86th, on a scramble off another Koellmel throw-in. Tammer Byrne flicked the ball on, Henderson tried a bicycle kick that hit the crossbar, Andrew Peat had a sliding attempt from point-blank range that was stopped by Colyn, and finally, Jhaj rose to head the ball in.
Jhaj's 12 goals give him a two-goal cushion in the Canada West goal-scoring race, and he's tied with Alberta's Easton Ongaro for the conference lead in points with 14.
The Cascades had some late looks – among them a volley by Henderson that went just over the bar – but were unable to find the equalizer.
"We were fortunate to be up at the half, no doubt about that," TWU head coach Mike Shearon said afterward. "But we came in, and I think Aidan (Moore) changed the game again. He got at them on the outside, and we started to play a little bit more. Overall, it was a pretty good second half, until whenever it was that they started scoring their goals. We've got to learn to close off games a little better.
"If we want to do what we want to do, you've got to win games like today. Two teams going after each other, trying to get points. That's what playoffs are about. Hopefully we do well in the next little bit to get there. But that's all about growth and determination."
The Cascades and Spartans both hit the road next weekend to face the UBC Thunderbirds and Victoria Vikes. On Friday, it's UFV at UBC and TWU at UVic. Saturday's slate features the Cascades at the Vikes and the Spartans at the T-Birds.
- with files from Scott Stewart, TWU Athletics