It was a battle, but Air Force’s Cinderella run came to an end on Sunday with a loss against Seton Hall, 2-1, in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament in Matthews, North Carolina.
Coming into the evening, the Falcons had picked up six straight winning results after starting the season with a 1-4-1 record. Their season nearly came to an end in the WAC Tournament quarterfinals as they trailed 2-0 to San Jose State early. They would score two goals in the second half though and win in penalty kicks by a score of 4-3. They didn’t concede a goal in the final two games.
Air Force dominated those final two games without star defenseman Jared Dove. He returned on Sunday and was a huge reason why the Falcons kept it close.
The first 45 minutes were scoreless but both teams had long runs of pressure. Seton Hall pushed for the first 20 minutes and had a great chance in the final minute of the half. Air Force owned most of the remainder of 25 minutes.
Seton Hall would regain the pressure to start the second half, getting opportunity after opportunity. Their best chance was a ball that rolled right past the goalie, to the goal line, but Dove was there to kick it out.
Air Force would get their chance right after that on a cross, ultimately kicking it in for what they believed was the first goal of the match. A couple of seconds later though, the referees called it off, as the ball flew out of bounds on the transfer.
The Pirates would capitalize off of that and get the first goal of the match with a James Boote free-kick in the 64th minute.
Air Force would apply pressure for the next 10 minutes and ultimately capitalize with an equalizer in front of the net at the 75th minute from Elijah Bussey to Tristan Trager. Trager softly kicked it into the net off the goalie's hand, creating a whole new ballgame.
The Falcons would then look to have a perfect opportunity to take the lead in the 82nd minute as Trager was found open in front of the net again, but he was not able to capitalize, as he was tackled in front of the net, not resulting in a penalty kick, allowing the game to go on.
Seton Hall took advantage of that, and just seven minutes later, CJ Tibbling would get the game winning goal in the 89th minute.
We heard you tonight, Falcon Nation.— Air Force Men’s Soccer (@AF_MSOC) May 3, 2021
Thank you for all of your tremendous support this season pic.twitter.com/4eWg0gyZ0a
This loss gave Air Force their earliest NCAA Tournament exit since 2017, where they lost to Virginia Tech by a score of 1-0.
Their 2021 fall season ends with a 6-5-2 record. The Falcons will look to build off their tournament appearance and WAC championship in the fall, as Bussey, Trager and Dove are all set to return.