The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3-1) saw their 3 game unbeaten streak shattered in a shocking 2OT loss to the Liberty Flames (5-3) at Spry Tuesday night. It marks a 5th straight victory for Liberty, who look like they may be the class of the Atlantic Sun, while the Deacs continue to struggle, and are now off to the worst start to a season in the Bobby Muuss era, albeit still keeping their heads above .500 so far. It was a game that Wake again struggled in front of net, and were the better team over the 90 minutes, but they let some big chances go by the wayside and Liberty took advantage.
The Flames came out wanting to press early, but the Deacs were able to play through the pressure and play on their terms, forcing Liberty to settle into a deep block. A Jake Swallen cross from a corner in the 10th minute nearly got the Deacs up and running, but Nico Benalcazar couldn’t direct his effort on frame. Wake continued to break into the Liberty half but were unable to create any real clear cut chances, with a Hosei Kijima ball across the box not being met by anyone in a dangerous area in the 14th minute. The Flames would remain resolute and keep Wake far away enough from their goal, but would give up a huge chance in the 26th minute, when a deflected Colin Thomas ball came right to the head of Kyle Holcomb inside the six yard box with no one around him, but he directed his effort wide of the goal. This was a chance that absolutely should have been a goal, and left Wake to keep searching for that goal to open the game. They wouldn’t get it before the half, as when the buzzer sounded the scoreboard still read 0-0.
It was a good start to the second half for Wake, with the Deacs coming out and being able to break down the Liberty low block, and with their press working effectively. A cutback from Hosei Kijima in the 55th minute would find Jake Swallen in the area, but his shot was deflected wide by Jarrod McKechnie. The Deacs would create some more havoc in the Liberty box a minute later, when Kijima found Julian Kennedy with a cutting through ball to send him in on goal, but his shot was blocked by Brandon Ott. Kennedy would then muscle Grayson Gardner off the ball and put it into the box, with the ball being cleared out to Jake Swallen, who saw his shot from the top of the box deflected wide. Liberty would test Trace Alphin in the early goings of this half, however, with a 59th minute shot from Gabe Findlay curling on frame, but being tipped over by the freshman keeper.
Two more huge chances would fall to Wake in the last 30 minutes as Wake continued to dominate the possession and control the game, with a beautiful cutback from Hosei Kijima finding Omar Hernandez in the 67th minute, who saw his first effort blocked at the top of the six yard box by Malik Smith, but Hernandez would smash the rebound with his right foot, smacking it wide of the post. It was another play that felt like it deserved a goal and it was a huge chance for Hernandez, but on his weaker foot it ultimately would come to nothing. Another chance would come for Wake in the 80th minute, with Nico Mancilla making an overlapping run outside of Hosei Kijima, who would set him up to deliver a cutback into the box that Leo Guarino was running onto, but Guarino would scuff it and it would be easily collected by a Liberty defender. A Jake Swallen effort from distance in the 88th minute gave the Flames a fright, but it ultimately would go wide and the scoreline would be the same as it was at halftime as it was for the end of regulation, 0-0.
The first overtime period started with Wake still on the front foot, but that would slowly change as they failed to create chances. A Ryan Fessler effort from distance in the first 3 minutes gave Danny Cordero in the Flames net a bit of a scare but ultimately went wide. Little happened in either team’s box until the last ten seconds of the first overtime period, when Seth Clark would get the ball on the left side for the Flames and cut it inside, with his curling effort seeming to offer no trouble to the Deacs until a Nico Benalcazar deflection would redirect it back toward the near post, but it would end up coming off of the side netting as the buzzer sounded.
The next overtime period started much the same way, but was ended quickly, with Gora Gora finding himself in space outside of the left side of the Wake box, and sending an unbelievable ball in for Michael Huss, who would get just enough on it with his lunging effort to send it back across goal and into the net, giving the Flames the win by golden goal.
I preached patience after the NC State game, and I think there is all the possibility in the world that this team can hit stride late in the season and make a run if things start clicking. All in all, it was a good performance for the Deacs in every aspect of the game except for one: finishing. It continues to be the Deacs’ fatal flaw, as they continue to flounder in front of goal in spite of the big chances they’re creating. I don’t think that it is sustainable for them to continue finishing this poorly as a team, but the way things have gone so far this season, it feels like, in front of goal, just about everyone is in a rut they just can’t get out of. My man of the match in this one is Hosei Kijima, who created a couple of chances in this game, was incredible in the press in winning the ball back, and was overall a nuisance out wide for the Flames all game. In the end, it’s a horrific result, especially considering that it was at home, but we can only hope it serves as a motivator for the team as they go deeper into ACC play. If they can start finishing their chances, who knows what can happen. But for now, they’re in a very rough patch.
The Deacs’ next game is a huge one, against #19 Clemson at Spry on Friday, with the Tigers having found themselves in a rough patch of their own, dropping from the #2 ranking after back to back losses last week against UNC Greensboro and #16 Pitt.