Last Friday was a big day for Wildcat Soccer. Their playoff hopes were riding on a Tiffin win against Ashland. With a thrilling Tiffin 3-2 overtime victory, Northern Michigan found themselves playoff bound for the first time in school history.
Saturday Sept. 28, the Wildcats had a tough non-conference matchup with Notre Dame (OH). Notre Dame came in with a strong record 11-4 overall and 8-3 in the MEC Division and NMU with a 4-10-2 overall record and 2-9-1 in the GLIAC. The game was played at a neutral site, Davenport University’s field in Grand Rapids.
This would be the first meeting in the two schools’ history. With a goal from junior forward Sam Popp and sophomore midfielder Sveinn Karlsson, along with a two save shutout from sophomore goalkeeper Filippo Torelli the ’Cats created strong momentum leading into the GLIAC quarterfinals vs. Tiffin on Oct. 31.
So far this season, Tiffin has had the Wildcats’ number, beating them in both matchups this season. Despite the home field advantage, Northern failed to score in a 1-0 loss, Sept. 29. Later, on Oct. 22 at Tiffin, the ’Cats could not find the back of the net for the second game against the Dragons losing 2-0. NMU was going into this postseason game as heavy underdogs.
With help from goalkeeper Torelli’s five saves in the first 25 minutes the ’Cats broke the tie. In the 34th minute freshman defensemen Isaac Wigermo threw the ball down near the right corner of the Dragon’s end. Wigermo received the ball back after a slick give-and-go play and crossed to Popp just outside the box. With a quick move to his right, he threaded a shot through a number of defenders into the top left corner of the net. With a beautiful goal from Popp the ’Cats took a 1-0 lead. With that goal, the playoff nerves were left behind and it created a doubt in the minds of the favored Tiffin squad.
Tiffin regained their confidence after the first half. For the early part of the second frame, they put pressure on the ’Cats with a series of corner kicks, then breaking through with a goal from Marc Albert Feliu in the 53rd minute.
Finally, at the 73rd minute, NMU broke the tie. Freshman forward Birkir Baldursson slid for the ball at the top of the box getting just enough on it to have it hit twine in the lower left corner of the Tiffin net, making it a 2-1 Wildcats lead. With a barrage of shots and chances in the final 10 minutes, the Dragons couldn’t get one past keeper Torelli, who ended the game when he got a mitt on a ball in the final seconds sending it over the net and propelling the Wildcats to the next round.
Tiffin could not find an answer for the strong goalkeeping of Torelli, who had eight saves one afternoon.
“When you play a team enough times you begin to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are,” head coach
David Poggi explained. “We knew we would play to defend as a unit and defend to win, when we did that, it helped create chances to counter attack.”
Having prior problems scoring against Tiffin they managed to get two in this playoff game.
“The goals we got were really well taken,” Poggi said. “Credit goes to the guys who scored those goals.”
The Wildcats will travel to Midland, Michigan for their semifinal matchup with second seed Saginaw Valley State University with a record of 12-3-1, 9-2-1 GLIAC. The contest will be played at Northwood University, who will host the final three matches of the event after earning the top seed in the field.