HELENA, Mont. — Within the context of college athletics, the Southern Oregon men's soccer team was briefly staring down one of the longest and most tortured bus rides imaginable. But after storming back for a 3-1 win Sunday at Carroll (Mont.), the 900-mile trek home will be one the Raiders can savor, with a Cascade Conference championship in tow.
The 14th-ranked Raiders (14-2-2 overall, 11-0-2 CCC) successfully completed their regular-season title defense, finishing with 35 points to Corban's 34, despite falling behind in a conference game for the first time this season against the Saints (7-7-1, 6-6-1). Terry Cox put them in a 1-0 hole with a rebound goal in the 50th minute before they formulated an answer that also secured an automatic berth in the 31-team NAIA Tournament.
In the 63rd minute, Gonzalo Garcia chipped a left-footed cross to Carlos Magana that he headed in for the equalizer. In the 75th, Luis Aguilar's corner kick from the right side went off Zac Hansen's head and found Renee Resendez on the far side. Resendez's then sent a header in front of the goal to Noah Addie, whose own header was saved into the air but landed on Yan Pessoa de Oliveira's head and was placed into the net.
The celebration was on in the 83rd minute, when Brendan Allen dribbled downfield on an advantage and waited for Junior Rivas to streak past his right side. Allen's pass hit Rivas in stride, and his one-time finish provided the final score.
"To come back from a goal down and win in the manner that we did shows a great deal of character, resiliency and mental toughness," first-year SOU head coach Davie Carmichael said. "Carroll is a strong side and not an easy place to play, especially with so much on the line. We never stopped believing and felt that, after our equalizer, the entire momentum of the game shifted in our favor."
The Raiders will take a 16-game unbeaten streak into the CCC Tournament presented by U.S. Bank, which will be held Nov. 7-10 in Springfield. Oregon Tech, the No. 8 seed, will be their quarterfinal opponent.
SOU will be in one of 15 NAIA Opening Round matchups on Nov. 17 at a site and against an opponent yet to be determined. The Opening Round winners will advance to the final site, OC Great Park Soccer Stadium in Irvine, Calif., from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1.
The Raiders also had to defeat Carroll on the final day of the regular season last year, 2-1 in overtime, to capture their first CCC title. They went on to add a CCC Tournament championship.
Carroll was coming off a 4-0 win Friday against Oregon Tech, and SOU was put in a must-win situation after its 0-0 tie at Providence (Mont.).
Pessoa de Oliveira's goal was his fourth of the season. Magana is up to seven and Rivas has three.
"I am so proud of the achievement of this group of special young men," Carmichael added. "They were individually and collectively nothing short of excellent in their application to our game plan and their spirit today. It was icing on the cake for the entire body of work throughout the regular season."
CARROLL 1, SOUTHERN OREGON 0 (2OT): At Helena, Mont., Kirsten Girolami scored in the 108th minute to give Carroll a win over Southern Oregon at Nelson Stadium, relegating the Raiders to fourth place in the Cascade Conference on the final day of the regular season.
With 2:50 left in the second extra period, Katie Martin dribbled into the box and bounced off a Raider defender, but kept her balance to direct a cross to Girolami, who had a clear shot from straight on past SOU keeper Kailey Lemon.
The Saints (10-6-2, 9-2-1) earned a share of the CCC title with the win, finishing as co-champions with Eastern Oregon. With the tiebreaker (total goals allowed) in EOU's favor, they'll have the No. 2 seed in the CCC Championships presented by U.S. Bank.
The Raiders (9-4-3, 7-3-2) would have claimed the No. 2 seed with a victory. They finished tied in the standings with Northwest (Wash.), which they tied earlier this season. The tiebreaker, which went to the Raiders, was moot; they'll match up with Northwest in the quarterfinal round of the CCC Championships.
The eight-team tournament is slated to play out Nov. 7-10 in Springfield. The Raiders will have to win it to qualify for the NAIA Tournament.