Fresno Pacific 4, #8 Concordia 3 Box Score Irvine, Calif. -
Playing in its final GSAC regular season game with a conference title on the line, Fresno Pacific put together one of its best performances of the year to knock off #8 Concordia 4-3 on its home field and capture the Sunbirds' first GSAC title since 2005. Paul Islas
scored two goals, including the game-winner, in an action-packed game that featured all the excitement of a postseason match.
The victory, combined with a Vanguard loss to Biola, put the Sunbirds (11-5, 7-2 GSAC) all alone on top of the standings. Fresno Pacific will be the top seed in the conference playoffs, hosting #8-seed Westmont in the first-round on Wednesday.
"We realized the importance of this game in terms of the playoff picture and came in feeling like we had our backs against the wall," said head coach Jaime Ramirez
. "The guys were excited that we had Gui [Machado] back too and he played outstanding." Machado, in his first game back from injury, was a force all day, completely shutting down Concordia's top striker Christian Ramirez.
It was a special win for Coach Ramirez, who has been a part of the GSAC since its inception and has seen the conference transform into the NAIA's best. In his first year as a head coach, 1991, the Sunbirds were GSAC champions. Now as the program's prepares to transition into the NCAA, Ramirez and the Sunbirds will go out as champs.
“"It was a complete and total team effort from the guys that have been consistent all year," said Ramirez. "It's very special for me, this being our last season in the GSAC, that the guys worked so hard to get us to where we are."
In a game that was in many ways a microcosm of how this Sunbird season has gone, the Sunbirds showed off their talent at the start, stumbled a bit in the middle, then brought it home leaving no doubts that they're one of the NAIA's best.
FPU built up a 2-0 lead in the first half as Islas broke through for the first goal in the 20th minute, followed by Fabricio Nazare
five minutes later. Nazare took a corner that was cleared out, but Machado got it and passed it right back, leaving Nazare to bury a difficult shot from the side into the far post net.
The Sunbirds had a very good chance to add a third goal on a play by Islas and Rodrigo Vianna
, but the shot was blocked and the Eagles would take advantage. Edgar Orozco and Jose Tamayo scored in a three-minute span with 13 minutes left in the half, effectively taking all of FPU's momentum.
Ramirez spurred his players on, telling them it was a new game, and when Nazare took a free kick in the 38th minute, Luke Tyler
executed the play perfectly to head in the goal and give the Sunbirds a 3-2 lead.
That score would stand well into the second half, as Machado, Tyler, Adrian Arias
and Chris Young
anchored the defense. In the 81st minute Islas struck again, his 15th goal of the season, to put FPU ahead 4-2.
"Paul came up big and it was just a demonstration of how good he's been all year," said Ramirez. "He's scored a point in all but one of our games. I think he's the GSAC Player of the Year."
Concordia would quickly respond though, as Orozco netted his second goal of the game to bring the Eagles back within striking distance. For the last four and a half minutes, the Eagles threw everything they had at the Sunbirds offensively in a desperate attempt to tie it up.
“Those last four and a half minutes we were just hanging on for dear life,” said Ramirez. “We did an admirable job of defending.”
It was the 8th conference title for Fresno Pacific, all with Ramirez at the helm. The last title came when the team shared the championship with Concordia in 2005. The last outright title came in 2003 when FPU went undefeated in GSAC play and was NAIA National Runner-Up.
FPU now holds wins over #8 Concordia and #11 Azusa Pacific. When you factor in the fact that they also won the GSAC title, it should be more than enough to lift the Sunbirds well into the NAIA Top 25. The win solidified FPU's claim as the top GSAC team, making it even more puzzling that the Sunbirds have been left out of the poll all season. FPU entered the week receiving votes in the poll (#27 overall).
Check the website later for a start time on Wednesday's playoff game. It is expected to be 7 pm.
Final GSAC Standings GSAC Playoff Schedule (First Round) #8 Westmont at #1 Fresno Pacific #7 Hope International at #2 Azusa Pacific #6 The Master's at #3 Concordia #5 Biola at #4 Vanguard