USAF Academy, Colo. - A second half surge propelled No. 20 Air Force past the University of Central Arkansas, 4-0, in the first round of the national tournament, Thursday evening, at Cadet Soccer Stadium, USAFA. The win marked the Falcons' 16th of the season, shattering the previous single-season wins record previously held by the 1993 team, which was the last team to advance to the second round of the tournament.
The Bears came to Cadet Soccer Stadium determined to rattle the Falcons' cage as they controlled the early possessions. Both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm early on. A staunch defensive battle eventually turned into an Air Force onslaught as the Falcons began dominating the possessions. After some close calls, Air Force was unable to punch one in but outshot the Bears, 9-3, at the halftime horn.
In the 55th minute, the Air Force was ignited by a goal from senior midfielder Danny Han. Austin Dewing had the possession on the far side when he seen Han open in the middle. Han received the ball with a touch and redirected the ball past Marc Olsen for his fourth goal of the season. Dewing was credited with his fifth assist of the season.
A mere 65-seconds after the first goal, Han found himself in the mix yet again, intercepting an errant pass at centerfield. Han saw teammate Klint Parker open in full stride downfield where he then connected with Parker for the scoring opportunity. Parker, who has seven goals this season, had no trouble finishing the 1-v-1.
With the game on the verge of getting out of hand, the Bears attempted to settle into their defense. In the 79th minute, freshman speedster JT D'Emidio exploded past three defenders in a downfield sprint, eventually passing the ball off to 2018 Hermann Trophy watchlister, Tucker Bone. The crowd began to erupt as the All-American approached the 1-v-1 with the keeper. Tucker patiently waited as Olsen came off his line, it was then that Bone chipped a brilliant arc over the keeper, falling softly into the grass within the frame. The goal marked his 13th of the season while D'Emidio was credited with his fourth assist.
With the game seemingly out of reach, the Bears' began playing more physical. A hard foul in the box yielded the Falcons a penalty-kick opportunity-- Air Force sent forward James Sims, a 6-4 forward with a smile on his face. Sims finished low-right for Air Force's fourth goal and his third of the season.
At the final whistle, Air Force dominated the stat sheet, outshooting the Bears, 19-11 (10-3). Bone and Han led the squad with four shots apiece while Sims took three and a trio of Falcons took two. Air Force keeper and WAC Defensive Player of the Year, Andrea Seazzu, was brilliant in the Falcons' frame. On several occasions he was tested but never failed to rise to the challenge, recording three saves on the match. Seazzu, along with the Falcons' stout defensive line, combined for his, and Air Force's, eighth shutout of the season.
"Overall, it was a great night to make program history," said head coach Doug Hill. "These guys have worked hard all season and more, so to see them set the record with a tremendous first-round victory is special."
"On the field, we played great on both sides of the ball," continued Hill. "I like reminding the guys that offense wins games but defense wins championships and we saw a good combination of that tonight. I knew that we needed to keep the ball on the ground and not play kick-ball with them, and when we started doing that, we got the results we wanted. After we got one, we opened up. Tucker's third goal was tremendous, all skill, but more so a beautiful setup by our freshman, JT D'Emidio. It was a brilliant 2-v1- that couldn't have been executed any better."
"Off the field, I think it's important to recognize all of the hard work that our facilities and events people did to make this night a success. I was proud of the way we hosted, from our awesome fans to our professional staff-- we proved that we deserved to host this match and we look forward to doing it more in the future."
Air Force travels to Denver, Colorado, to take on the 15th-seeded University of Denver Pioneers, in NCAA second round action, Sunday, Nov. 18. Tickets are available for purchase on Denver's athletic website, DenverPioneers.com.