With a brand-new Big West logo painted on the pitch, CSUF men’s soccer stormed the field for the Big West semifinal in what would possibly be the last game of the season for Fullerton or the UC Riverside Highlanders.
The Titans were able to overcome that pressure, keep their composure and defend their home field to stay alive and play another day, as they secured a spot in the Big West Championship for the fourth consecutive year after taking down the Highlanders 2-1.
“We’re very excited to secure the spot. We’ve been training for this all year,” said team captain Nicolo D’Amato. “I knew this wasn’t going to be my last night. I gave it everything.”
The Titans met the Highlanders for the third time since the start of conference play and finally came out victorious after losing their first match and tying their second.
Fullerton was determined to leave Titan Stadium with a win, and Titans forward Samuel Goni helped make it happen 26 minutes into the first half.
The redshirt junior scored the first goal of the game and his ninth of the season, a feat he deemed lucky that gave the Titans a 1-0 lead.
“We’re a family and we work for each other. Sometimes when you try to score a goal, the luck comes on your side,” Goni said.
By the end of the first half, both the Titans and the Highlanders racked up four shots, although Riverside totaled more on goal (2).
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, a foul called on Titans defender Sam Molz awarded the Highlanders a penalty kick, the opportunity to score they were looking for.
Highlanders midfielder Daniel Aguirre converted the penalty kick, tying the match in the 58th minute.
With the game now tied, things began to look more dire for CSUF when a red card on Titans defender Corentin Ohlmann in the 63rd minute left the team a man down for the rest of the match.
Titans Head Coach George Kuntz was happy with how his team responded to the adversity.
“Even when we went a man down, I think we did a pretty good job of shaping and possessing the ball,” Kuntz said.
The Titans made good things happen during that time of possession as a free-kick goal by D’Amato put the Titans up 2-1 in the 69th minute.
“I’m excited and humbled to have scored the game-winning goal and to put our team in a good spot for the championship,” D’Amato said.
With nine minutes left in regulation, a heated run-in between the Titans and the Highlanders nearly caused more ejections as tensions and intensity remained high.
“The energy today was way higher. I think everyone knew that we wanted the game from the beginning,” Goni said.
With 15 seconds remaining in the match, CSUF goalkeeper Paul-Andre Guerin made a game-deciding save off a shot from UCR’s Antonio Lokossou. Guerin credited his fast reflexes to his drive to keep the season going for the Titans.
“We have a revenge to take from last year, so it’s a great opportunity for us,” Guerin said.
Fullerton will travel to take on UC Davis Saturday Nov. 11 with the Big West Championship on the line.
The Titans said they’re ready to finish what they started last year before falling short.
“Mentally, physically, to have the right chemistry, to have the right guys … It’s just an incredible feat,” Kuntz said. “Let’s just put it all on the table and see how it goes.”