JACKSONVILLE, FL – The NJIT men's soccer team, making its first ASUN Conference Championship appearance, dropped a 2-1 decision to Jacksonville Friday night at North Florida's Hodges Stadium.
The No. 4 ranked Highlanders (8-6-4) outshot their opponents No. 5 Jacksonville (7-9) 18-6 in the loss.
In the first half, NJIT held a slight offensive advantage, tallying five shots to the Dolphins four.
The Highlanders first opportunity came in the third minute when senior Stephen McGeever got his head on the ball after Andy Alvarez's corner that Dolphin keeper Patrick Harding punched over the goal to keep the score tied.
However Jacksonville was first to strike in the eighth minute off a free kick that was half cleared by the Highlander defense but Sam Gardner was able to get a foot on the ball and volley it into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Freshman Alvarez almost got NJIT on the board when he went 1-on-1 with the Jacksonville keeper, but Harding was able to get a handle on the ball saving NJIT from tying the game.
Freshman Andrew Nino kept the pressure on the Dolphin defense with a blast from 25 yards out that was saved by Harding who notched three saves in the first half.
The Highlanders got on the board late in the first half when Rene White crossed a ball from the left side that was diverted by the Jacksonville defense and into their own net.
Shortly after NJIT tied it up, Kai Bennett placed a shot into the lower back corner from the left side just out of Highlander keeper Victor Pujades's reach, to regain the one goal lead, 2-1 for the Dolphins.
The Highlanders dominated the second half, 13 shots on goal, and limiting the Dolphins to just two shots the entire half.
NJIT almost evened things up in the 50th minute with two shots on goal, a header by Juan Zapata followed immediately with another shot by Mamadou Guirassy leading to two more stellar saves by Harding, with the wind in NJIT's advantage.
Senior Rickardo Oldham took a shot from 25 yards out that was aimed for the upper right hand corner but once again was stopped by Harding.
In the 84th minute, Guirassy duked several Dolphins defenders to get a shot off, but Harding was there to prevent the junior from scoring.
With less than five minutes remaining, NJIT's Oldham was sent off after receiving his second yellow card of the game and the Highlanders played with 10 for the remainder of the game.
Despite being down a player, the Highlanders kept the pressure on, getting themselves three corner kicks in the final three minutes of the game.
With last minute attempts to score by Diogo Ferreira and Andrew Nino, NJIT was unable to tie up the game, leaving the final score 2-1.
Sophomore Harding finished with eight saves for Jacksonville, while freshman Pujades recorded one save.
The Dolphins will take on No. 1 ranked North Florida on Sunday at Hodges Stadium, and No.2 FGCU will host No.3 Lipscomb on Saturday for the semifinal matches. The winners will play at the highest seed on November 12 in the final.
NJIT men's soccer ends their 2016 season on a high note:
The Highlanders, under the leadership of first-year head coach Fernando Barboto, reached eight wins, marking the second-highest win total, since competing as an NCAA Division I program (first season 2004). The record stands at 10 set in 2012.
NJIT made its first ASUN Men's Soccer Championship appearance in the teams' first season as a member of the school's new multi-sport conference, the ASUN Conference. Men's soccer, which played the previous two seasons as an associate member of the Sun Belt Conference, is competing in the ASUN a year later than the other NJIT programs, which began play in the ASUN in 2015-16.
The Highlanders, who began Division I competition in men's soccer in 2004, ranked 10th in the latest NSCAA Southeast Region men's soccer poll (as of November 1). NJIT has been ranked regionally at other times in the past, including 2014, when the Highlanders ranked as high as 7th in the Southeast Region, due to its affiliation with the Sun Belt Conference, a Southeast-based league, and 2012, when the Highlanders were in the Top 10 of the North Atlantic Region poll for most of the year, finishing 8th in the season-ending regional poll.
The six one-goal wins and seven shutouts this season (most in the ASUN) are the most in a single season in NJIT's Division I era.
The draw against No. 22 North Florida, was the fourth of the season for the Highlanders, marking the third-straight season, the Highlanders have recorded four draws. In the DI era for NJIT (first season 2004), the team record is five set in 2005.
Guirassy, a second-team ASUN conference honoree, concludes his junior campaign fourth in career goals in the NJIT Division I era with 10 and tied for first for goals in a season (7) and points in a season (17, 7g, 3a).
Goalkeeper Pujades started all but one match this season and is second in the league with 51 saves. His 1.11 goals against average ranks second in the ASUN and .729 save percentage is third. Pujades sits atop the NJIT single-season Division I era record with seven shutouts on the season.
The Highlanders will graduate seven seniors from their 28-player roster, including ASUN conference second-team selection Victor Kausch.