The USF men’s soccer team took the first 6 points of this year’s all-sports War on I-4 with a 3-2 double overtime win over UCF in Tampa on Saturday night.
Twice, the Knights took the lead off quick, organized counters, but the Bulls battled back behind the strength of over 1,200 fans inside Corbett Stadium. UCF struck first in the 9th minute, outpacing the USF defense for an easy finish past keeper Christian Knight.
It took most of the first half for the Bulls to respond, but off an Adrian Billhardt corner, Avionne Flanagan put a header on frame that deflected off UCF defender Andreas Steineger for his first career goal. His backflip celebration was arguably better than the goal itself.
The Knights came out with the perfect game plan to counter the attack-minded Bulls, playing possession and counter beautifully. It took everything from Aiden Bauer Marr and the USF defense to keep the Knights from running away with the game, literally and metaphorically. Bauer Marr had a notable day, cutting off several dangerous attacks and helping direct traffic in the back. The usually pacy Bulls were neutralized in the speed department, and the individual skill of USF players would be the difference in the game.
The Knights took the lead again on another counter in the 72nd minute, but USF would respond in spectacular style. After settling a ball from Stephen Rudderham, Ricardo Gomez found himself space in the middle of the pitch. He had a go from nearly 35 yards out and scored an absolute screamer in the 81st minute.
Neither team would get another decent look for the rest of regulation, and the first I-4 battle went to overtime. Each team would have a scoring chance in the first OT period, but neither could finish the game. UCF had a loose ball in the attacking third that rattled off several players before finally being cleared. For USF, Trey Jackson made a long run down the right side, cut left, and put the shot a foot wide.
As the second OT started, the conditioning of the Bulls finally showed, with a noticeably gassed UCF team struggling to keep up. The Knights finally met their end after a poor headed clear fell to Alex Zis. The sophomore hit a first-time strike inside the near post to win the game the 107th minute. He ran to the corner flag and wisely fell to the ground as his teammates dog-piled on top of him and fans mobbed the railing in wild celebration.
Coach Bob Butehorn was pleased with his team’s effort and growth after the game. “I’m really proud of the guys and their resiliency today, the way they kept pushing through and responded every time going down one.” He was very complimentary of UCF and coach Scott Calabrese, and commented “if this is what the future holds for these games (in the War on I-4), it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
Memphis and UConn notched wins this weekend over Cincinnati and Temple, respectively. Frontrunners SMU and three-time defending champions Tulsa meet on Sunday.
USF travels to Kentucky for a non-conference tie with #10 Louisville on Tuesday before returning home on Saturday vs Cincinnati.