Two bodies crashed into each other with 3:08 remaining as if a soccer match had gone rogue and turned into American football.
Body No. 1 — A 6-foot-3 striker lurching his body forward in an attempt to bury the equalizer for No. 17 Marquette.
Body No. 2 — A 6-foot-2 goalkeeper, dressed head-to-toe in black, willing to do anything if it meant keeping No. 3 Indiana men’s soccer in the lead and a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
Advantage: IU sophomore Roman Celentano, who snatched the ball in mid-air with two hands before bringing it close to his chest and hugging it tight like a teddy bear, much to the chagrin of two Golden Eagles’ players.
The physicality brewed all match — evidenced by the 11 yellow cards doled out — but this time, Celentano refused to back down.
After landing on his feet, ball firmly in his clutches, Celentano lowered his shoulder into Marquette’s Alex Mirsberger and stared him down as if to say, this my goal box, the shenanigans stop right now.
Not only did the silent message seem to resonate loud and clear, the Golden Eagles didn’t generate another shot-on-goal for the remainder of the match and watched as the Hoosiers closed out a Sweet 16 win.
“I’m just really proud of the team,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “That was, again, just a real gutsy, extra-effort type win.”
Through two NCAA Tournament matches, the Hoosiers certainly haven’t made it easy on themselves. After squeaking past St. Francis Brooklyn in the second round via penalty kicks, IU desperately needed two late goals against Marquette in the final 20 minutes to ensure a spot in the Elite Eight.
In both wins, the Hoosiers relied on leadership to help drag them to the final whistle. On Thursday night, it was senior midfielder and co-captain A.J. Palazzolo’s turn to inspire the team.
“Really want to credit A.J., just the way that he kind of rallied the troops at half,” Yeagley said. “He just kind of willed the guys on making sure that we’re going out of this thing, that we’re leaving everything on the field.”
Before any of the halftime rallying began, though, it was Palazzolo who found himself on the wrong end of a Marquette goal sequence.
In the 44th minute, with senior forward Thomas Warr dribbling the ball past midfield, Palazzolo seemed to be tripped up by a Marquette player while making a run down the left flank. Instead of a foul and a free-kick in favor of the Hoosiers, however, the referee did not see the trip and allowed play to continue.
Seconds later, Marquette struck.
Amid the confusion surrounding the no-call, Marquette forward A.J. Franklin took the turnover into IU territory and rifled a shot from about 25 yards out that sailed past Celentano and into the back of the net. For the first time all season, Indiana trailed at halftime.
Rather than sulk, it was a lesson learned for the Hoosiers.
“We had a little left in the tank in that first half,” Yeagley said. “I think that was maybe the takeaway, is that we had to empty it (the tank), and we did. We emptied it.”
Maybe emptying the gas tank meant playing with more of an edge, because what ensued in the second half was something of a yellow-card-palooza rather than an IU-type soccer match.
Over the course of the final 45 minutes, referee Sergio Gonzalez showed 10 yellow cards to 10 different players — IU receiving six total, Marquette shown five.
With so many stoppages and collisions, neither team could get into much of a second-half flow.
“The game got chippy,” Yeagley said, “but I thought the official did a really nice job of managing that… The game didn’t get out of control, it just had a lot on the line. Both teams were fighting for a lot.”
The chippiness played right into the Hoosiers’ strengths, though, especially on restarts and turnovers where they were able to make a few key runs into open space. Two of which proved to be the difference.
In the 70th minute, forward Victor Bezzera connected with Herbert Endeley streaking down the right flank with no one but the goalkeeper in front of him. Endeley finished it off with an equalizing shot to the far post.
Less than nine minutes later, with Marquette on the mend following another yellow card, forward Maouloune Goumballe buried the game-winning goal. Touches from Ryan Wittenbrink and Nyk Sessock inside the 18-yard box caused a scrum and loose ball in front of the net, and Goumballe tapped it in.
Saddled with the late lead, Celentano and IU’s backline took care of the rest to propel the Hoosiers into the Elite Eight.
“Just another example of digging and digging,” Yeagley said. “Some of these guys were uncomfortable. We still have some young guys or guys that don’t have a lot of minutes.
“That’s a big game, and they were able to overcome. That says a lot.”