Sunday, December 4, 2022

MSU takes home Big Bear Trophy for the first time since 2017

September 28, 2022
<p>The MSU men&#x27;s soccer team poses with the Big Bear trophy after defeating the University of Michigan men&#x27;s soccer team at DeMartin Stadium on Sept. 27, 2022. Spartans defeated the Wolverines 2-0. </p>

The MSU men's soccer team poses with the Big Bear trophy after defeating the University of Michigan men's soccer team at DeMartin Stadium on Sept. 27, 2022. Spartans defeated the Wolverines 2-0.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

For the first time since 2017, Michigan State men's soccer hoisted the Big Bear Trophy following a 2-0 defeat of Michigan in its Big Ten home opener of the 2022 season.

“It feels great,” Head Coach Damon Rensing said. “I’m really happy for the players that looked like the Spartan team that I've coached for a lot of years, a really good defensive performance from front to back... Just a great Spartan team victory.”

This was the 21st time the Spartans played in the Big Bear Trophy game, playing Tuesday night at DeMartin Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd of 3,047, the highest attendance this season has seen so far.

The last time the Spartans faced the Wolverines was Oct. 5, 2021, when the game ended in a 2-2 draw after double overtime. The Spartans entered this year's game with the victory in mind.

First Half

The Spartans played tough from the start. Within the first seven minutes of the game, senior defender Nick Stone played the ball into the Michigan box, which junior forward Greyson Mercer then headed to the bottom right corner of the net.

It was Mercer’s third goal of the season, making him the leading scorer on the team.

Following the goal, Mercer dove to the ground to slide on the rainy field in celebration of his goal.

“It was an early goal,” Mercer said. “That was unbelievable, and that environment is just overpowering and amazing. When I slid for that celly I felt like I was on a pro field. It really felt great."

The game got chippy following Mercer’s goal. With nine failed shot attempts from the Wolverines to equalize the score, the half wrapped up at 1-0.

Second Half

MSU kept it up defensively throughout the second half with senior goalkeeper Owen Finnerty saving all five shots taken at goal.

With just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Spartans came storming down the field. Freshman forward Jonathon Stout took his first shot which bounced off the left post. Stout corralled his own rebound and kicked it back towards the bottom right of the net, successfully scoring the second goal of the night.

It was Stout’s first goal in his career as a Spartan.

“This feels amazing,” Stout said. “This is the best crowd and the best fan section in the nation to get me and the whole team hyped. This is the first time most of us have had the Bear at DeMartin and it’s so nice to have it back."

MSU put up a fight until the final minute of the game, sealing the 2-0 victory over the Wolverines and taking back the Big Bear Trophy. 

“I do this every year and I've been in these big wins and tough loses,” Rensing said. “To me, I'm happy for the seniors that have put a lot on the line, that’s who I’m happy for. I’m probably gonna enjoy Big Bear another time and lose it at some point but to me it’s these guys and the memories they’ve made. I’m so proud of them for leading us to this victory."

It was a game of firsts for Finnerty, who earned his first clean sheet with the Spartans, yet on the other side of the rivalry. Finnerty formerly played three seasons for Michigan before transferring this year.

“It really didn’t sink in until after the whistle, it feels great,” Finnerty said. “We’ve been working for this all year and to get the first clean sheet is a great feeling especially in the game it was. The guys worked hard for 90 minutes. We were up 2-0 with a minute left and the guys were putting their bodies in the line. I couldn’t ask for more for those guys and the clean sheet was the cherry on top.” 

Finnerty has yet to lose a Big Bear Game.

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“To be 6-0 in the Big Bear Games is pretty special and to come out on the other side and bring it back to State, there's nothing more that I wanted to do," Finnerty said. "...I’ve sacrificed a lot over the last eight months to change and be a part of this program. I really thank Damon, Joe (Ahearn), T.J. (Kolba) and Nick (Barry) for accepting me as a Spartan. I’m a Spartan through and through and to win this game proves that.”

Wisconsin on the clock

MSU, who moved to 3-4-2, will continue Big Ten Play on Sunday when it hosts the Badgers for Alumni Day. 

“If we can keep scoring goals and getting shutouts it will be a good year,” Rensing said. “Right now, we just want to rest and enjoy this victory. The guys are off tomorrow and then we’ll definitely come back Thursday with a hungry Wisconsin team."

MSU last faced off against Wisconsin on Sept. 17, 2021. Similar to last season’s Big Bear Trophy game, this one also ended after another double overtime draw (1-1). If the Spartans can match Tuesday’s energy, they’ll be in good shape for Sunday. 

“We need to keep working on our set pieces,” Mercer said. “We’re not the biggest team in The Big Ten but I think we’re one of the more physical. If we keep working on those set pieces, we’re gonna be a powerhouse in The Big Ten.”

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