The stormy weather mirrored the game. There was nothing elegant about the way MSU avoided its first back-to-back loss results of the season, but the Spartans trudged through the storm to beat Bowling Green, 1-0.
MSU sophomore forward Ryan Sierakowski was the lone goalscorer of the game.
"We knew it was going to a big battle against Bowling Green," Sierakowski said. "In the past four, five years, it's always been a 1-0 game, so it's always tight. ... We kept chipping away, and we finally got the goal in the second half."
MSU possessed the ball and rhythm for the vast majority of the game, earning itself an early second half goal. In the final few minutes, Bowling Green turned into the aggressor, however, and all the Spartans could do was try to resist the changing tides. The team did, but just barely keeping their heads just above the water and barely in check, as the controversial ending nearly boiled over.
"You've always got to look out for each other, but you've got to be smart, because there's always another game to be played," MSU head coach Damon Rensing said. "Whatever the result is at the end of the game, you can't change. I mean, Eric (Nichols) at Bowling Green does a great job. I just think it was kind of the perfect storm."
The first half was played at a plodding pace. Although MSU owned a majority of possession, the actual goal-wards forays were few and far between. Possibly the closest chance came from Spartans sophomore Connor Corrigan on a direct free kick from 22 yards out, but his effort flickered over the post.
The game entered halftime 0-0, with MSU posting six shots to Bowling Green's four. The second half briskly sparked a flame, however.
"I thought we possessed the ball good in the first half," Rensing said. "But we didn't possess to look to get in behind and be dangerous. ... Eventually, we were able to do that, and that started to unlock some things and got them on their heels."
First, just a minute and a half into the period, a peeling lay-off from junior attacker Ken Krolicki gave Corrigan room to cross. He swung in a near-post delivery that freshman Giuseppe Barone ran onto and headed towards goal. If not for a reflexive reaction from Bowling Green goalkeeper Anthony Mwembia, MSU would have had the lead.
Just minutes later, a back-heel flip from Barone freed Sierakowski in for an open look at goal. A hustling, grueling recovery from Falcons' defender Moe Mustafa, though, spared the visitors an awkward one-on-one scenario. Mustafa perfectly timed his slide tackle and pushed the ball behind for a corner.
The heroic defensive track back covered the defense for just a few minutes, however. MSU's attack precipitated a more unstoppable onslaught ahead.
Junior midfielder Brad Centala began the breakthrough. Centala outplayed a Bowling Green ball-carrier, usurping possession in the attacking half. He immediately played a forward ball to Barone, who used the back-heel redirect to guide the pass into the path of Sierakowski, again preying down on goal.
It was deja vu, but with no Mustafa in sight. This time, it was just Sierakowski and Mwembia, and this time, the ball splashed into the net for a Spartans' 63rd-minute goal.
"I think we had a good build-up through Brad Centala, and then (Barone) had great vision to flick it onto me," Sierakowski said. "I turned and I just hit it. Keeper couldn't make a save and accumulation of shots, one finally went in."
MSU sunk back into their half to protect the advantage, and the Falcons came forward. Yet, it wasn't until with just a few minutes left when the lead first seemed susceptible to a late-game stinger.
Within the final two minutes, referee Carmen Serbio was confronted with two unclear instances of a hand ball penalty, one within the MSU penalty box. Yet, despite the pandering and protests from Bowling Green, Serbio shook his head and stood stolid. No hand ball was given.
The wrangle of outrage and celebration clashed on the field, with the eruption of emotion leading to several disputes on the field. Benches cleared.
"We've never had any issues with them, and we don't really expect to in the future. They're a very class team," Rensing said. "It was just one of those things where there's a questionable call at the end and a lot of emotions and it kind of just steamrolled together."
For No. 25 MSU, though, the gritty performance preserved the season's unblemished home record. It was junior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague's fourth clean sheet in five games.
"They were coming at us," Hague said. "They were putting in a lot of balls. I mean, the defense did great to clear them all out. It was an emotional ending, but I thought our guys did very well with the control of that."
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Up next, the Spartans will travel out to Columbus, OH. to take on Ohio State University (3-7 overall record, 2-1 conference record) at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
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