Dan Kinvig, UFV Athletics
ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – For the second straight night, the University of the Fraser Valley men's soccer team mustered a dramatic goal in second-half injury time to secure a crucial result against the UNBC Timberwolves.
On Friday, Andrew Peat's added-time header sent the host Cascades to a 1-0 win over the T-Wolves while simultaneously clinching a playoff berth. On Saturday, it was a Gurmaan Jhaj penalty kick in the dying minutes that sealed a 2-2 draw at MRC Sports Complex, locking up the No. 3 seed in the Pacific Division for UFV (7-6-2).
"It was a battle for 90 minutes, and to show that belief and show that desire, and willingness to do anything to get the ball in the back of the net is just fantastic to see," UFV head coach Tom Lowndes enthused. "As a coach, there's nothing that makes you prouder. They're willing to run through a brick wall for each other."
A win for the T-Wolves (5-4-6) would have punched their playoff ticket while leapfrogging UFV for third place in the Pacific; as it stands, UNBC now has to sweat Sunday's game between the Thompson Rivers WolfPack and UBC Thunderbirds. TRU (5-6-3) can draw level with UNBC for the fourth and final Pacific playoff berth with a win over the undefeated T-Birds (13-0-2), and they own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
"Full credit to TRU – we've been watching their games, and they've been great," T-Wolves head coach Steve Simonson said. "Obviously we're going to be UBC's biggest fans tomorrow and hope they'll finish up their undefeated season the right way for us. If they do, we'll take our fourth place and we'll have felt like we earned it over time, because we've had a good year."
The T-Wolves were sharp early on and had the bulk of possession over the first 25 minutes, but it was the Cascades who opened the scoring. David Parfett did the honours – he took a pass from Peat in the midfield and made his way to the top of the penalty area, where he unleashed a right-footed strike that found its way inside the right post.
UNBC drew even in the 38th minute. Francesco Bartolillo sent a ball through to an onrushing Matt Jubinville, and he caught up to it at the same time as Cascades keeper Alex Skrzeta did coming from the opposite direction. Neither player was able to secure the ball in the scramble, but Anthony Preston was johnny-on-the-spot to clean up the loose ball.
The T-Wolves grabbed their first lead in the 61st minute after Cascades captain Tammer Byrne was whistled for a foul in the box. Bartolillo stepped up and sent his penalty kick into the right side of the goal; Skrzeta was leaning the other way.
The Cascades mounted a furious push over the final half-hour of play, but UNBC keeper Rob Goodey kept them at bay. In the 66th, UFV's Jun Won Choi was tripped up in the box, and Jhaj stepped to the penalty spot. But Goodey dove to his left and got his hands on Jhaj's low drive – a stunning stop.
Jhaj, though, got a chance at redemption in injury time after the T-Wolves were whistled for a hand ball in the box. The fourth-year forward tried the other side of the goal this time, and though Goodey dove the right way, he was unable to get his hands on it.
"That's what leaders do," Lowndes said of Jhaj, who extended his team record with his 13th goal of the season. "They take responsibility, and when something bad happens, they don't shirk that responsibility – they go up and take it again.
"For him to step up after missing a penalty says a lot about his character, and I'm really proud of him."
Though the T-Wolves fell short of their desired result, Simonson could find no fault in his team's effort.
"UNBC was two minutes away from a third-place finish in the Pacific, and that's quite an accomplishment," he said. "For these boys and how far they've come, I'm so proud of them, I really am.
"It was a great performance from us today – I thought it was fantastic. We knew they were going to come at us at the end. To be undone on a penalty call, that's tough. But we've got to respect the referee's decision and go on from there."
THROW-INS: The Cascades honoured a trio of graduating fifth-year players – Skrzeta, Byrne and goalkeeper David Hicks – in a pregame Senior Night ceremony marking their final home games for UFV. . . . Byrne and UNBC fifth-year Conrad Rowlands both wrap up their careers among the Canada West all-time leaders in games played. Rowlands suited up for his 70th game on Saturday, tying the record jointly held by Saskatchewan's Jerson Barandica-Hamilton and Lethbridge's Lucas Rajcic. Byrne, meanwhile, played his 69th game – a Cascades record, and tied for fourth all-time in the conference.