LEWISBURG, Pa. -- The Bucknell men’s soccer team received contributions from all four of its seniors on Senior Day, and the Bison clinched a Patriot League Tournament berth with a 3-1 victory over Holy Cross on Saturday afternoon at Emmitt Field at Holmes Stadium. Jonathan Grad scored the opening goal in the 23rd minute and Mayowa Alli and Jesse Klug followed in the second half to lift Bucknell to 10-5-1 overall and 4-3-1 in the conference.
With the victory, Bucknell pulled within two points of third-place Holy Cross (7-7-1, 5-3-0), and with Boston University falling to American and Lafayette finishing in a tie with Army, the Bison are assured of one of the six Patriot League Tournament berths. There is still one more round of league play coming up next weekend, and the Bison close out the regular season at Boston University.
Prior to the contest seniors Mayowa Alli, Josh Butzke, Orman Kimbrough and Joe Meyer were honored on the field with their families. Alli netted his third goal of the season early in the second half, with Butzke assisting on the play. Meyer and Alli anchored a back line that kept the Crusaders off the board for 85 minutes, and Kimbrough came on late and made his first career save.
Holy Cross had the first good chance of the day when Tommy Uttaro got loose coming in from the right side, but he pulled his shot wide. The Bison saw more of the ball in the first half, however, and they broke the ice in the 23rd minute. Meyer switched fields with a long diagonal pass to Austin Lenart on the left wing. Lenart faced up his defender, beat him with a move along the end line and centered a pass to Grad, who flicked it past goalkeeper Kevin Wright at the near post. It was Grad’s second goal of the season and second in as many games.
Bison keeper Mike Lansing made two terrific saves later in the first half to keep it 1-0. The first came on a bending free kick taken by Monty Sanders from just outside the 18. Later in the half Lansing was scrambling after trying to punch out a corner kick, and positioned in the middle of the area he lunged to his left to block a hard shot by Uttaro.
Holy Cross has had tremendous success in the second halves of games this season. Fourteen of the Crusaders’ 17 goals coming into the game had come in the second half and overtime, including a number of dramatic late goals. Bucknell was very aggressive coming out of the locker room and posted the all-important second goal just 9:24 into the half.
Klug took the ball down the right flank and won a corner kick for the Bison. Mark Leibensperger’s inswinger skimmed off the head of Butzke, and then Alli went up high to head the ball off the underside of the crossbar and over the line. Alli’s third goal of the year and 15th of his career made it 2-0.
Bucknell pressed onward for a third goal, and it had three near misses before Klug iced it. Chris Thorsheim cut in from the right side and passed to Butzke, who delivered a beautiful backheel pass to Patrick Figgie charging down the left side, but Wright was there for the save on Figgie’s shot.
In the 77th minute Andrew Leischner had a shot skim off the crossbar, and a few minutes later Wright stopped Klug on a breakaway. Figgie and Klug would not be denied in the 81st minute. Figgie took possession about 40 yards from goal and bolted in with two defenders chasing. Figgie’s shot was palmed away by Wright, but Klug was there to clean up the rebound. It was Klug’s team-leading ninth goal of the season, while Figgie picked up his third assist.
After the third goal, Kimbrough came on to a rousing ovation. He made his first career save on a shot from Eddie Viscount, but Matt Villano touched in the rebound to break up the shutout with 4:36 to play.
Following the goal, coach Brendan Nash took all four seniors off together to another big ovation. Lansing went back in net and made one more tricky save to close out the victory.
“It’s a special day because the families are here, and it’s a really tight-knit group,” said Nash. “Mayowa is the leader but Joe and Josh and Orman do so many things behind the scenes that help our team chemistry. When Orman got into the game you could tell from the response on the bench that it meant a lot for them. I think that’s why they pushed for the third goal, to get Orman out on the field. Those four guys are leaving their legacy here.”
“I thought we did an OK job pressuring them in the first half but felt we needed to increase our pressure in the second half,” said Nash. “In the second half I thought we did a very good job pressuring them on their half of the field. We’re not going to worry about what happens with the other results because it’s the Patriot League and it’s crazy and nobody has any idea what is going to happen the rest of today or next Saturday. I told our guys, ‘we are going to focus on us.’ We got three points today, and no matter what happens, next Saturday we have to go try to get three points against a tough Boston University team.”
Bucknell finished with an 18-12 shot advantage, while Holy Cross had a 7-5 edge in corner kicks. Lansing made four saves and Wright five.
The Bison will travel to Hartwick for a non-league contest on Tuesday at 7 p.m. before finishing up at Boston University next Saturday at 2 p.m. The Bison are now playing to host a quarterfinal game on Nov. 12. The top two seeds earn byes, while the third and fourth seeds will play at home in the quarters against the fifth and sixth seeds.