The men's soccer DePauw head Coach Brad Hauter was taken on quite an emotional roller coaster on Saturday when his Tigers (10-7-1, 5-3-1) hung on for a 3-2 win over the Denison University Big Red (8-8-1, 5-4) to advance to the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament.
After going up 3-0, the Tigers allowed a pair of late goals that gave Hauter and the 333 fans in attendance on senior day at Reavis Stadium reason to fear.
“The two goals were an emotional momentum swing for both teams,” Hauter said. “Since Denison only needed a tie one goal was still dangerous but two gave us a cushion.”
DePauw came into Saturday’s tilt with only one option: win the game to keep the season alive. Going into the weekend, the Tigers trailed the Big Red by two points for the fourth and final spot in the NCAC tournament that begins later this week. A tie would give the Big Red the spot and would have ended DePauw’s season.
In order to get to the playoffs and avoid starting the offseason early, the Tigers got goals from their top three scoring threats: senior Andy Morrison and sophomores Mitch Tabler and Julian Gonzalez.
After a first half that saw quite a bit of action around the DePauw net but no goals, the Tigers got quickly to work changing that when the final 45 minutes began.
Just three and a half minutes into the second half, it was Julian Gonzalez who put the Tigers on the board when he scored off of a corner kick from Adrian Ables.
Gonzalez then fed Mitch Tabler for the second goal less than 30 seconds later.
“It was the perfect final home game,” Tabler said. “Not just because I scored, but because how the team played. We played for each other.”
Morrison scored what would eventually be the game winning goal in the 63rd minute when he followed up on his own rebound and beat Big Red goalkeeper Blake Schach to put the Tigers up 3-0.
With just over 15 minutes to play and their postseason hopes falling fast, Denison mounted one last flurry to keep their season going.
Jake Girardot cut the DePauw lead to 3-1 in the 75th minute and teammate Mark Waterman followed up with a second tally just 10 minutes later.
“We didn't press correctly on the first goal and that's on us,” Hauter said. “The second goal was a garbage pk call and not much we could do but manage that situation. That gave them some life and they started throwing guys forward but our backline did well to handle it.”
The Tigers were able to hold off the final surge from the Big Red and qualified for the conference tournament for the fourth straight season. Now that sets up a first round matchup with the Battling Bishops of Ohio Wesleyan University for the second straight year. The tournament is a single-elimination format with one loss being all it could take to end DePauw’s season.
“It feels good,” senior forward Andy Morrison said. “We’d rather beat them in the conference tournament than the regular season anyway.”
The Tigers haven’t defeated the Bishops since the NCAC tournament final in 2012. In all three of their meetings since then, Ohio Wesleyan has outscored the Tigers 7-3.
The Start of the conference tournament also signifies the beginning of the end for standout sophomore Mitch Tabler. After having difficulties keeping up with academics, Tabler will be leaving the University after the fall semester.
Without his knowledge, the senior class put together a special presentation for the forward at their banquet.
“I mean I had no idea they were going to talk about me,” Tabler said. “It just shows how much of a family we are as a team. For them to say what they did about me was such an honor and I can’t thank thank them enough.”
To keep their season alive, the Tigers will have to take care of business on the road against the Battling Bishops on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Tabler is as excited as anyone about the opportunity to keep their season alive while ending their rival’s.
Said Tabler: “[I] couldn’t be happier.”