The Air Force men's soccer team capped an incredible four-day run Sunday with a shootout victory over #9 New Mexico in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament championship game at the UNM Soccer Complex in Albuquerque, N.M. The Falcons, who got a game-tying goal with 16 seconds left in regulation from senior Kevin Durr, earn the league’s automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Air Force entered the MPSF Tournament as the No. 3 seed and won three straight games to claim the title. The Falcons last participated in the NCAA Tournament in 1997, when they lost to Creighton, 3-2, in the first round at the Academy.
"I could not be prouder of this team, not just today but the entire season," said Air Force head coach Doug Hill. “I am so excited for this group of 10 seniors to play in the NCAA Tournament. We were experienced and hardened coming into the season but they have fought hard for everything this year.”
Windy conditions wreaked havoc with high balls and long crosses all afternoon, which kept the game on the ground. There were limited scoring opportunities in the match's first 45 minutes, but New Mexico did make the only shot on goal in the first half count.
Michael Kafari received the ball during an attacking run then stopped short of the box and sent a pass over the head of a defender to Ben McKendry. McKendry flicked the high arching shot past Air Force keeper Matt Underwood from the middle of the box in the 30th minute. The first half ended without any further scoring, and New Mexico leading in shots 5-0.
New Mexico got additional threatening chances in first minutes of the second half, which included four corner kicks within a five-minute span. However, the Lobos were unable to register a shot off any of the corner kicks from Blake Smith and Michael Calderon.
The Falcons nearly tied the game in the 55th minute when Durr fired a blistering shot from the top of the box that UNM goalie Patrick Poblete was just able to deflect away.
The Falcons’ equalizer came in the final moments of the game on an Air Force free kick. After the ball was sent into the box, it was cleared out by New Mexico but right to Durr at the top of the box. Durr then blasted home the game-tying goal from 25 yards out under the crossbar with just 16 seconds left in regulation.
"The ball just dropped out to the right guy," said Hill. “It was a great shot and fitting that he (Durr) tied the game for us. We had some good looks in the second half and really played outstanding defense, especially by Jake Jones and Caleb Downey.”
New Mexico forced a second overtime after Poblete made a pair of saves within 14 seconds of one another. Then it was the Lobos who forced the saves in the second overtime, which included Underwood's save of a Blake Smith from the left side of the box in the 104th minute.
After a pair of scoreless overtimes, the match went into a shootout. Seniors Zane Dydasco and Kevin Rossillon put away the first two PK’s for Air Force followed by Durr and Jones. New Mexico made its first three shots, but the Lobos missed their fourth when Michael Calderon's shot ricocheted off the cross bar. Air Force sophomore Scott McGillivray convert his penalty kick to clinch the shootout victory for the Falcons, 5-3.
“We nailed every PK in the shootout,” said Hill. “We were a very confident team once the second overtime ended.”
Durr was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player while Jones and Underwood were named to the all-tournament team.
The Air Force soccer program will gather at Champps Bar & Grill in the Shops at Briargate to watch the NCAA Selection Show on Monday at 3:30 p.m. (MT). Fans and the media are invited to join the Falcons as they learn their NCAA Tournament future.