Sierakowski scored two goals in overtime win over Broncos
For MSU, the Western Michigan University game was in many ways a point of inflection, around which the rest of the season could hinge.
With nine of 17 games completed and an undisputed 7-2 overall record entering the game against the 8-2-1 Broncos, the Spartans verified their progress from last season with an overtime 2-1 victory, feeding off yet another steadfast stand defensively against the co-MAC leaders and the current hot streak of sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski.
"Last season, if we were in this same situation, we wouldn't be winning this game," Sierakowski said after scoring both of the team's goals.
Following a first half that paired equal looks on both sides, the game's tone was set for a contentious and low-scoring grind. Thanks to the continual goalkeeping shield provided by redshirt-sophomore goalkeeper Jimmy Hague, MSU extended the two-game clean sheet streak another half.
That streak was broken 16 minutes following the change of sides, however.
In sharp contrast to an MSU opportunity on the other end in the 49th minute, created by an over-the-head knock from freshman midfielder Giuseppe Barone that rolled to Sierakowski, no present danger could be sensed from the 45-yard. An unassuming free kick was taken by Western Michigan captain and midfielder Edu Jimenez.
And unlike the save from Western Michigan goalkeeper Drew Shepherd, a smart but standard matter of positioning given a clear line of sight, Hague had to attempt to discern the whipping cross from a blur of leaping and straining bodies from both teams.
He couldn't, and the originally innocuous free kick traveled into the bottom right corner of the goal to the shock of everyone on the field.
Now 1-0, the game heated up, with both teams throwing bodies in and earning their seven shared yellow cards. But he chances stayed stagnant for MSU.
That was at least the case until the 79th minute, when the leveling goal, like the Western Michigan opener, surprisingly popped up for MSU.
Sophomore defender Connor Corrigan found himself up the field on the left wing, confronted by a few defenders. Corrigan tightly dribbled into the double team, ultimately making it past the first challenges, but off-balance and with the ball squirting ahead. MSU sophomore forward DeJuan Jones was well-placed and aware to the loose ball, but the Western Michigan defense was not aware of him. Jones was smashed into from behind, and referee Jorge Cuate had the relatively undisputed task of pointing to the penalty spot.
MSU's leader scorer on the season Sierakowski stepped forward. With one hitch in his walk up, Sierakowski confidently kicked the ball into the bottom left corner, just barely past the fingertips of Shepherd, who correctly anticipated the corner kick's direction.
"We create chances continuously, consistently and we knew it was going to fall at some point," Sierakowski said.
With the 1-1 score, the game intensified to an even greater extent, with three cautionary yellow cards doled out in the final 10 minutes and both teams narrowly missing chances to tie the game.
In the 84th minute, Jones intercepted a ricocheted pass in the heart of themidfield. The East Lansing native made a beeline for the Broncos' goal, slipping past a defender and releasing his shot past Shepherd's reach. Unfortunately for MSU, the effort coasted wide by inches.
With less than a minute remaining, Western Michigan also had to rush a dangerous free kick and corner kick,both of which were found deep into the box. A good punch from Hague and the expiration of time ensured MSU's safety for the time being.
“It wasn’t our best performance by any stretch, but like I told our guys, the soccer part wasn’t great but the mental, the character and the culture piece was very good after dropping down a goal," MSU head coach Damon Rensing said.
Overtime was eventful and curt, a pithy reminder of the sudden-death format. The Spartans, on their first prolonged possession of the added period, took to the attack. The play went from Jones on the left side to Sierakowski on the right, stationed 20 yards away from goal. Sierakowski ripped a shot from range, and the ball rifled through the defense and riffled the net, instantaneously winning MSU the game, 2-1.
"DeJuan had a great run down the line and I found some space in the box," Sierakowski said. "I just wanted to keep my head, stay focused, stay down on it, and luckily made some good contact and found the back of the net."
All of the postgame chatter for MSU surrounded Sierakowski, with his performance heightening his goal total to six, including four in his last three games.
"He could've had three or four today, but their goalie made some very good saves," Rensing said. "This isn't surprising with Ryan. Obviously, it's not easy to score two goals in a game, but if there's somebody that's going to do it on our team, he's the one that can do it."
Sierakowski noted how the moment was all the more enjoyable because it came in a rivalry game. For MSU though, it was more than just a rivalry game — it was the triumphant postmark on a rivalry series.
"One of our goals is to simply be the best program in the state of Michigan," Rensing said, his team now 3-0 in intrastate bouts on the year. "We've knocked off Oakland and (University of) Michigan earlier in the year, and Western beat Michigan. So, we figured this was for who's the best program in the state of Michigan this year, and we were able to come out on top."
This weekend, MSU will attempt to extend their advantage one state over, as Wisconsin comes to DeMartin Stadium on Sunday.