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Apr. 30—The Bowling Green State University men’s soccer team played with poise and pressure for the majority of an NCAA tournament opener on Thursday night, but the Falcons gave up two tough second-half goals in a 2-1 loss to Monmouth.

Northview High School graduate Nathan Masters scored late in the first half for BG before Monmouth tied it on a header from Julian Gomez at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C.

The Falcons, who had the majority of pressure throughout much of the match, yielded the game-winning goal with 8:03 left after a momentary defensive breakdown.

“We definitely have no regrets in the way we played,” BG coach Eric Nichols said. “It was a tough game for sure. The boys went after it. We wanted to play aggressive and we wanted to play on our front foot. We wanted to be brave and bold and we went for it. A lot of credit to Monmouth. They don’t need many chances to score, and we didn’t give them many chances and they punished us for the few opportunities they got.”

BG (7-5-1), which won the Mid-American Conference title with a 5-2-1 record, qualified for the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in program history. The Falcons were making their first appearance since 1997.

BG finished with a 7-6 edge in shots on goal. The Falcons also had a 13-10 overall advantage in shots toward the net as well as corner kicks (8-3).

“The team will learn that the further you go, the better the season you have, the worse it hurts to lose,” Nichols said. “Losing a game like today when we felt we were good enough to win makes it feel even worse.”

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Monmouth came up with a quick transition attack to a rush as Jonas Lindner scored the decisive goal on an assist by Ben Zakowski. The duo worked around the BG defense, and sophomore goalkeeper Logan Kowalczyk had no chance to stop the shot from Lindner that was fired on a sharp line under the crossbar.

BG responded with a desperate attack around the two-minute mark and again with under a minute left with a flurry of pressure, but the Falcons could not find the equalizer.

Monmouth goalkeeper Sean Murray earned the win with three phenomenal saves over the final 42 seconds. Vinny Worner’s blast was knocked away by a leaping Murray. Achille Robin then had two consecutive headers off two corner kicks over the final 24 seconds, but Murray dove to make the saves.

“The character of our guys showed [at the end]. It’s tough to give up a [late] goal like that especially if you feel like you’re on top of the game and feel like you deserve more and you get kicked in the stomach,” Nichols said. “But the guys went for it. Even with the clock ticking down under 10 seconds, we still felt like we could get a goal. This group will fight until the very end.”

Masters, a sophomore, and Worner, a senior, each had two shots on goal.

Monmouth (6-2-1) knotted it up on 1 off a Hawks’ corner kick at 56:11 of the second half. The header from Gomez looked to have changed directions after it deflected off a BG defender in the box.

The Hawks advance to face No. 2 seeded Pittsburgh in second-round action on Sunday at 8 p.m.

BG took a 1-0 lead with 2:47 left in the first half on a goal from Masters after the Falcons applied heavy pressure for a lengthy stretch.

Masters set up the flurry of pressure with a pass that led to a shot by Roberto Fernandez Garrido which was stopped by Murray. However, BG maintained possession on the rebound. The ball worked its way back to Masters across the front of the Hawks’ net, and Masters buried it with a one-timer with his right foot.

In the first half, BG had the edge in possession and had a 3-1 edge in shots on goal.

The Falcons took up where they left off to start the second half with sustained pressure over the first 10 minutes.

Monmouth turned the tables and began taking control of the second half. Kowalczyk had to come out to stop a Monmouth threat as he came off the line to prevent a shot off of a Hawks’ solo break early in the final 45-minutes.

After the Hawks tied it, BG’s Abdi Faqi had his shot sail just high over the crossbar with 26 minutes left in regulation.

With just under 17 minutes left, Masters had his point-blank shot stopped before Monmouth countered with a chance of its own.

Kowalczyk went down with an injury for the second time in the match with 15:16 left and backup keeper Brendan Graves, a Perrysburg graduate, readied to get in the game. However, Kowalczyk stayed in the match.

Three minutes later, Kowalczyk made his best stop of the night to prevent a shot on a solo breakaway. Kowalczyk sprinted off his line and smothered the kick attempt to keep it tied.

Robin, a senior defender from France, played well throughout the match. Robin’s shot went just wide early in the game. An early foul on the Hawks led to two consecutive corner kicks for BG as a shot by Masters traversed just wide of the goal.

Bowling Green’s Kale Nichols had the game’s first official shot on goal with a header at 21:20 of the first half that was easily stopped by Murray.

Moments later, Masters had a quality chance for a BG team that had most of the possession in the early stages.

With just under seven minutes left in the first half, the Hawks had their first dangerous chance, but BG defender Joey Akpunonu broke up the chance in the BG box and forced an errant shot.

Monmouth coach Rob McCourt was not at the game as he was in coronavirus protocol on the Hawks’ campus in New Jersey. Zakowski had two assists for the Hawks, which earned an automatic bid by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.

Nichols earned MAC coach of the year honors and six of his players earned spots on the All-MAC team. Kowalczyk, who entered the game with a 0.70 goals-against average, earned All-MAC second-team honors.

The Falcons won the MAC regular-season crown outright for the first time since 1996.

“I want all the players to take this experience and the connections they made with each other … and take away some awesome memories,” Nichols said. “Each year we’ve learned from the failures of the past and we’ve built on the successes. There is so much to build on here. We can handle this. We love winning and we love everything that comes with it. We hate losing. But we can stick our chests out and be better people from this whole experience.”

First Published April 29, 2021, 8:52pm

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