The season opener for Tennessee Wesleyan College pitted the Bulldogs against the current number nine ranked team in the nation Southern Polytechnic State University. On paper, the game looked to be an extremely tough start with Southern Poly reaching the second round of the NAIA National Tournament last season and has started this season where they left off last with a draw against previous National Champion's Bethel University and an 11-0 win over Atlanta Christian.
The game started brightly for TWC, they controlled possession of the ball and only looked threatened on the counter attack by a very defensive minded Southern Poly. Chances in the first half were few and far between, TWC's John Carrier had a speculative effort from 30 yards excellently and acrobatically saved by Southern Poly's goalkeeper. The best chance of the half came to Southern Poly, when a straight ball through the center of TWC's defense, who was caught napping, lead Nigerian born Emeke Maduka to find himself one on one with TWC's freshman goalkeeper Zack Plaice. Plaice stood his ground and pulled off an outstanding save to keep the score at 0-0 going into the half.
The second half started similar to the first with Southern Poly sitting back soaking up TWC's pressure and counter attacking with speed. Again goal scoring opportunities were at a premium and the deciding moment of the game came on the 68th minute when TWC's right back Dusty McClanahan put in a slide tackle close to the half way line and the referee showed him his second yellow card and subsequently a red. It was a soft dismissal in a game that had much worse challenges that went unpunished. TWC was on the back foot from this point onwards, changes had to be made and with the work that the TWC team had put into the game, cramps were becoming a factor for some of the TWC players.
From that moment the momentum shifted, TWC who up to that point had the Lion's share of possession were restricted to defending deep and looking to catch Southern Poly on the counter. TWC's defense was immense from this point onwards, restricting the number of chances Southern Poly had on goal and when opportunities came Plaice in the TWC goal was again up to the task, pulling off a string of excellent saves. At the end of full time the score was still tied 0-0.
With two periods of golden goal extra time to come, the TWC boys had to gather themselves and prepare for a another potential twenty minutes with a player down and others suffering with cramps from the workload and hot, humid conditions.
Southern Poly came out for the first half of extra time on a very attacking foot, hoping that TWC would fold under the pressure of being a man down away from home against the number nine team in the nation. The TWC team was having non of it; they defended resolutely and created their best chance of the game. Freshman Garrett Koon who had worked tirelessly the whole game beat two men and lifted the ball over the Southern Poly goalkeeper, the ball moved through the air in slow motion, everyone thought it was in, but it bounced back off the post right back into the arms of the grateful Southern Poly goalkeeper, leaving the first overtime with still no score.
The second half of extra time started the same way as the first with Southern Poly looking to attack with numbers, pushing the tired TWC team deeper towards their own goal, but still Southern Poly couldn't get the breakthrough they were looking for. That was until five minutes from the end of extra time. Southern Poly won a free kick on the halfway line, played it to their right wing who whipped the ball over to an unmarked player on the back post, he headed it back across the six yard box and the ball was headed into the goal. It was a heartbreaking conclusion to a game that the TWC team had put so much effort into and could easily have won, but there are so many positives to take from this for Tennessee Wesleyan College who had great performances from a number of players.
TWC's next game is Saturday September 4th against the University of West Florida at Baylor High School in Chattanooga at 2pm.