The Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team picked up another dramatic victory against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend, winning 3-2 after trailing 2-1 in the last 20 minutes. They move to 10-2-1 and 8-2-1 in conference while the Irish move to 8-6 and 4-4 in conference. It was another game that the Deacs seemed hopelessly out of, much like the game against the Boston College, and, much like that same game, the Deacs found an equalizer and a winner.
It was an inauspicious start for the Deacs, as Notre Dame were all over them out of the gates, with Aiden McFadden seeing an early chance blocked by Prince Amponsah and cleared by Holland Rula. Notre Dame utilized the long throw in to great effect in this game, with any throw from Reese Mayer becoming a dangerous set piece chance for the Irish. The throw in after the McFadden chance was the first instance of this, as Mayer’s long arcing throw landed right on the head of Jack Lynn, who headed it on frame, only to see it tipped over the bar by Cole McNally. It was the first of many big saves by McNally.
Another long throw led to Notre Dame’s first goal, with a long Mayer throw deflecting off of Nico Benalcazar and then Jake Swallen before Dawson McCartney slammed it home. McCartney almost set up Jack Lynn for a second, with a turnover in the middle of the field springing out to McCartney, who slid it to Lynn streaking into the box, but McNally was quick off his line and swallowed it up. At this point, however, the tide of the half started to turn, and Wake took control of the game.
With 27:26 to go in the half, Omar Hernandez finished off a great team goal to bring the scores even. The play started with a ball from Prince Amponsah to Hosei Kijima in the middle of the field, with Kijima carrying it forward and giving it up to Oscar Sears, who gave it to Jahlane Forbes on the left. Forbes carried it past Townsend Mayer, then flashing it across the box. Holcomb tapped it goalward but it was blocked inside the six, and it deflected back to Hernandez, who smacked it home from inside the six yard box. A trio of chances fell to Kyle Holcomb late in the half, with him working the Mohamed Abualnadi off the ball and dribbling into the box, but he couldn’t get a clean shot off. A great play from Jahlane Forbes set up Holcomb on the left just outside of the box, but he didn’t make the contact that he wanted and the ball dribbled into Keegan McLaughlin’s arms. The third looked to be his best chance, as he found himself with space behind Abualnadi dribbling into the right side of the box, but he lost the ball under himself and Reese Mayer was able to clear. Another golden chance nearly fell for Notre Dame, with Jack Lynn again getting his head to a long throw in, this time at the near post to flick it back into the box, but it was just beyond the reach of Aiden McFadden, who would have had an empty net to shoot at if he got there.
So the Deacs went into half tied up for the 4th time in 4 games this fall, and looked like they had played their way back into this game, but the threat of an ND goal still loomed large. Once again, however, the Irish came out hot. An early chance fell for the goalscorer McCartney, who had a free header 10 yards from goal from a Townsend Mayer cross, but McNally made a ridiculous sprawling save to keep the teams level. This marked the start of a great spell for Notre Dame in this game and an awful spell for Wake.
In the 22nd minute Wake began a truly brutal few minutes, with Nico Benalcazar turning the ball over to McCartney on the left side of the box, then giving it to Jack Lynn turning inside and passing it to Daniel Russo who seemed to have the whole goal to shoot at, but didn’t hit it with enough power to beat McNally, who easily gobbled it up. Wake couldn’t find a way out of their half for the next couple of minutes, which led to a goal with 20 minutes left. After a a couple of scuffed clearances after chances from McFadden and Lynn, Lynn gathered the ball and passed back to Townsend Mayer, who sent it across to McFadden, who got a free run at the ball and flicked it into the side netting of the far post. It felt like a knife in the chest for this team, as they had gotten nothing going in the half to that point.
Somehow, they scored. Freshman Ryan Fessler got the ball about 35 yards out from Holland Rula and took a seemingly harmless shot on goal. But the ball knuckled a bit strangely and fooled Keegan McLaughlin, who watched in horror as the ball came off of his shoulder and deflected into the net as he went down to try to catch it. Their energy skyrocketed and Wake seemed to find a new gear in the last 15. However, the Deacs had a scare with 12:30 to go, as a free kick from McCartney looped over McNally and fell onto the head of Reese Mayer, who couldn’t direct his header into the empty net from the tight angle.
Jahlane Forbes nearly put one away for the Deacs, as he received the ball from Kyle Holcomb on the left, cut inside, and curled one on frame that McLaughlin was equal to. With a minute left, they found the game winner. Kyle Holcomb got the ball from Jahlane Forbes at about midfield and left it off for Ryan Fessler, who seemed to take an errant touch that ended up directly in the path of Forbes, who mishit the ball across goal, with the ball bouncing strangely over a lunging Abualnadi and into the path of Kyle Holcomb, who finally broke his 4 game scoring drought with a walk in goal. This goal secured the win for the Deacs and also gave Kyle Holcomb his 20th career goal, making him the 19th player in program history to score that many. Notre Dame had a couple of late set plays to tie the game, but they all led to nothing as Wake would see out the last minute and win the game.
It’s difficult to pick out a man of the match for this game, as so many players put in great shifts. Hosei Kijima and Jake Swallen put in a great game in the middle, with Ryan Fessler also coming off the bench and getting a goal and an assist. Jahlane Forbes was stellar again, setting up Holcomb for a tap in. For me, though, Cole McNally was the man of the match here. Although he allowed two goals, he made some huge saves to keep the Deacs in the game and ultimately win it. It was the first game where we really got to see the potential of McNally as an elite shot stopper, as he didn’t have much work in the Davidson or NC State games, and he looked a bit shaky in the Boston College game. This was a great game for him overall and he deserved to get the win for his efforts.