Captain Victor Hernandez stood outside of the huddle with his head down, goalie Andrew Esposito stood on the other side with his hands on his hips, and the jubilant air had vanished without a trace.
The Owls lost Friday in their Northeast-10 semifinal contest against Bentley University. The biggest blow, however, was not the loss itself, but how it happened.
“We lost it more than they won it,” said junior midfielder Yoni Feldman.
Whether Southern lost or Bentley won became inconsequential after goalie Andrew Esposito dove right and the ball sailed to the left. The final penalty kick cemented the end result as a 7-5 victory for the Falcons.
Ross McGibney, the team’s leader in goals on the season, led off the penalty kick session for the Owls and failed to put it past the goalie. The missed opportunity ended up being the difference.
“It’s tough, losing on penalties is never a good thing,” he said, “especially when you’re the only one to miss.”
The Owls dominated most of the game defensively, not allowing Bentley to even register a shot on goal until the 72nd minute.
The Owls had a 2-0 lead when the Falcons’ Matt Solomon scored off a rebound in the 74th minute. Then in the 79th Brennan DaCosta fired a corner kick across the face of the goal and Chris Gardner knocked in the header.
It took only five of the over 110 minutes played in the game, but that was all Bentley needed to change the momentum and eventually ground the Owls for the rest of the tournament.
Feldman said it all comes down to composure and leadership.
“It’s only up to us if we show up for the full 90 minutes,” said Feldman. “When we play the full 90 minutes, everybody on both sides of the ball giving 100 percent, nobody can keep up with us.”
The scoring began for the Owls when Harry Appiah, who was filling in as captain for the game, took a pass from Feldman in the 26th minute and found the back of the net.
The Owls went into halftime with a 6-0 lead in shots, and took a 2-0 lead in the game when freshman Doural Scott beat the goalkeeper, lost the ball momentarily, then knocked it past a Bentley defender standing in the goal in the 66th minute. That was the last bright spot for the Owls.
“One little breakdown allowed them to get into the game, and the momentum swung their way,” said Head Coach Tom Lang. “They are a team that is always dangerous on set pieces, we talked about it, but they executed on two set pieces. That was the difference in the game.”
The Owls were playing without the Northeast-10 conference defender of the year Paul Templeton due to suspension for the second straight game. Templeton, a team captain, penalty kick specialist and defensive leader, was given a two-game ban due to his involvement in a fight during the last regular season game against Merrimack University.
The Owls were able to grab a 2-1 victory in the quarterfinal game against Stonehill without Templeton and Scott, who was suspended for just one game.
Hernandez and Seth Ragaini tallied goals in that game. Ragaini was a non-factor against Bentley, but received a yellow card during the second overtime. Hernandez was moved from offense to defense in the Stonehill game.
Lang said not having Templeton forced them to make some adjustments. Hernandez remained on the defensive side of the ball for the entire semifinal contest.
Feldman said the team not only missed Templeton’s skills as a defender, but not having his leadership on the field during crunch time Friday was what hurt the most.
“He’s our captain, he’s a junior, he’s been around for a long time,” said Feldman.
As this was a semifinals contest and it was decided by penalty kicks, the game will go into the books as a tie. The result will leave the Owls at 13-2-3 to end Northeast-10 competition.
Because of the team’s body of work this season, those familiar with the program are confident the Owls
will be selected to compete in the NCAA tournament.
The team hopes not to repeat last year’s Northeast-10 and NCAA results. They lost in a similar fashion to this year, except they fell to Le Moyne in the Northeast-10 finals, then to Southern New Hampshire on penalty kicks in the first round of the NCAAs.
“You just remind them how it felt to be in that situation and hopefully they don’t put themselves in that situation again,” said Lang. “It’s playoff time, anything can happen in the playoffs and you need little bit of a break, a bit of luck to go along with it as well.”