Flyers men’s soccer celebrates senior night with thrilling win to earn spot in A-10 Tournament

The 2021 Dayton Flyers men’s soccer senior class is recognized prior to kickoff of Saturday’s 4-3 win over Duquesne at Baujan Field. Photo courtesy of Peter Burtnett, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor

On Senior Night at Baujan Field, the Dayton Flyers men’s soccer team came from behind to win a thrilling 4-3 game in overtime over Duquesne, clinching a spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Before Saturday’s game, the Flyers recognized Elias Harryson, Kingsford Adjei, Jake Feiner, Eren Elbustu, Pape Gueye, Nolan Hunter, Jake Lofgren, Cooper Knecht, Josh Morgan and Domnic Ruffolo.

“I think this senior class is, for the most part, the ones that went through Covid, which was a very difficult time,” Flyers head coach Dennis Currier said. “They end up winning a conference championship during that difficult season. And this program, they have to endure a lot in terms of being a student athlete and the academics and the soccer, the community outreach, lifting weights with coach Toby, and it’s an incredible journey for these guys. 

“We got guys from all over the world as well. So it’s always difficult to see them leave, but they made a big mark and … most of them are walking out of here with a ring, with the A-10 (regular season) championship (from last year).”

The night quickly soured for the Flyers when Dukes freshman forward Maxi Hopper followed his own rebounded shot with a light touch shot into the bottom left corner. Just six minutes into the game, the visitors took an early 1-0 lead. 

For the Flyers, it went from bad to worse when a through ball pass from sophomore midfielder Nate Dragisich found Zach Mowka. The freshman forward calmly fired a right-footed shot past Flyers sophomore goalkeeper Marc Kouadio to put the Dukes up 2-0 with 15 minutes played. 

But the goals kept coming and two minutes later, the Flyers corrected course, as a ball bounced into the air and then fell to the feet of Andy Sanchez. The junior attacking midfielder fired a right-footed bullet into the back of the net to put the Flyers back in the game, trailing 2-1.

“When they did get the two goals, I felt like if we could just get a chance and draw it back, you know, to one we would be in a better situation,” Currier said. 

Aside from a fantastic diving save by Kouadio (finished with seven) in the final moments of the first half, the rest of the first half lacked creativity, and the score remained the same at the break. At halftime, the Flyers led shots on goal (5-3) and possession (55 percent), but had only 17 percent of their total possession in the attacking quarter. 

In the second half, the Flyers remained on the attack and sophomore midfielder Michael Adedokun fired a shot that was saved by junior goalkeeper Dominic Nascimben. But the rebound fell right to Feiner, who fired a right-footed rocket into the left side of the net to even the score at 2. 

Less than a minute later, Nascimben made another good save on a strong shot by Flyers junior forward Manny Day, but was able to control the ball. 

In the 68th minute, Day pushed a pass towards junior forward Forster Ajago, who hit a shot towards goal which was deflected in to complete the Flyers turnaround and make it a 3-2 game.

Three minutes later, the Dukes had a chance in front of goal but were thwarted by a great defensive effort by Kouadio and the Flyers defenders. 

Needing to continue to play strong defense, the Flyers finally caved in the 77th minute, when Hopper assisted Dragisich, who passed a low shot off the post and into the bottom right corner to tie the match at 3. 

Both teams had a couple of chances in front of goal to close regulation, but neither team had a chance turn into a goal, and the game went into overtime. 

“I think the big part was we shifted around some things,” Currier said. “We went to a new formation the second half, towards the late part of the second half. If you saw the start of the game, we were actually getting fairly dangerous, we just weren’t that accurate.”

Currier said the “new guys” had good performances, and that a shift into a 4-3-3 in the second half made a difference by adding security defensively while making the offense more dangerous. 

In overtime, the first five minutes went by without any major action. But sophomore forward Ousseynou Cisse headed the ball toward Harryson, and then Harryson towards Adedokun, who headed the ball into the back of the net to win the game for the Flyers on a special senior night.

“I thought (the seniors) contributed really well tonight,” Currier said. “It’s always great to end their last home game at Baujan with a win, you always want that for them and that’s what I always kind of pray before the game, it’s like, we got to get them a win on the way out, although the (one) game doesn’t define them. It’s been their career that really defines them here.”

Even without leading talisman, senior attacking midfielder Kingsford Adjei (out because of a red card), the Flyers were able to put together a thrilling win that came at a crucial time.

“We just play for each other, and it doesn’t matter who’s on the field,” Harryson said. “We’re a team, we work hard together and I have trust in every single player here. So I’m just happy other people can step up and win the game for us.”

With the winner, the Flyers clinched the No. 8 seed in the A-10 Tournament, where they will play against No. 1 (10 nationally) seed Saint Louis on the road Saturday. In their only matchup this season, the Billikens won 2-0.

“The postseason is a whole new ballgame and everybody’s 0-0,” Currier said. “And this is our chance to get to the national tournament. I think having that extra added reward at the end (is motivating).”

Harryson understands the toughness of going against the Billikens, but is confident.

“They’re a top-10 team, it’s always gonna be tough,” Harryson said. “It’s always tough to be playing at their place, but we have some great history against them. And you know, I’m positive they’re scared of us coming to (their) house and destroying another playoff game for them.”

After the game, Harryson and Feiner – who took a knock and was taken out of the game but felt good because he couldn’t “feel the pain because we’re all so happy, so excited about the win.” – were able to reflect on their time at Dayton.

“From the first day I got here, I knew this place was special,” Feiner said. “And to be here all four years, and to actually help the team win help in numerous ways off the field and on the field, it’s honestly such a journey. It’s so, so complex, it’s so hard to describe, but it’s just a great feeling.”

“It’s funny when you come in here, the coaches right away when you come in here, they focus on how they want to develop you as a person,” Harryson added. “And I think you can see that the incoming freshmen and then when they graduate here as seniors, (the coaches) develop a lot of soccer players and people in general. So I mean, the same goes with me, I feel like I’m a much more mature soccer player and person than when I came in here my first year so I’m just thankful that I got to spend four fantastic years here in Dayton and it’s just great.”

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