Jacksonville, Fla. – Fifth-seeded Jacksonville punched its ticket to the 2016 ASUN Conference Men's Soccer semifinal with a 2-1 victory over No. 4 NJIT on Friday night. The win sets up a River City Rumble showdown with No. 1 North Florida on Sunday night.
The Dolphins secured the victory behind goals from Sam Gardner and Kai Bennett in the first half. Jacksonville keeper Patrick Harding was the man of the match with several outstanding saves to deny NJIT an equalizer in the second half.
Jacksonville opened the match on the front foot as they controlled possession in the opening minutes. They were rewarded for that possession in the eighth minute, when defender Sam Gardener collected a loose ball at the top of the box and rifled home a half volley beyond the diving Victor Pujades for the 1-0 Dolphin lead.
The Highlanders regrouped and found their groove after the opening 15 minutes. They forced Patrick Harding into a couple of outstanding saves, but found an equalizer in the 33rd minute. Substitute Rene White was open on the left side of the box and drove towards the endline. His cross went beyond Harding and was turned in by a Jacksonville defender for the own goal. The Dolphins responded right away, however, as the team's top scorer, Kai Bennett scored his first goal since September 8 to give the Dolphins a 2-1 halftime lead.
NJIT came out of the locker room buzzing and looking for the equalizer. They used the wind at their back to attack the Jacksonville goal, but were denied on several occasions by Harding, who played his best game of the season. In the 50th minute, he produced a double save to deny Juan Zapata and Mamadou Guirassy from close range. In the 66th minute, Rickardo Oldham smashed a 30-yard volley towards the upper right 90, but Harding made a diving stop again to keep the match at 2-1 in the Dolphins favor.
The match continued towards the Dolphins' end seemingly all second half, but the Highlanders couldn't find a second goal to send the match to overtime. In the 80th minute, NJIT finally beat Harding off a free kick, but the Jacksonville defense cleared the ball off the goal line to preserve the 2-1 victory.
The first semifinal of the 2016 ASUN Men's Soccer Championship takes place on Saturday, Nov. 5, as No. 2 FGCU hosts No. 3 Lipscomb. Kickoff is set for 7 PM ET from the FGCU Soccer Complex and the match will be streamed live on ESPN3.
No. 4 NJIT vs No. 5 Jacksonville Quarterfinal Notes
- Jacksonville won its first ASUN Championship match since 2010. Tonight's victory is the sixth overall in Dolphins' ASUN Championship history.
- Kai Bennett was back on the score sheet after his last goal came on September 8th. He leads the team in goals with five now after tonight's game-winner.
- Patrick Harding tied his season-high with eight saves tonight, including several game-saving stops in the second half. He now has earned six wins on the year, third among ASUN goalkeepers.
- Sam Gardner collected his second goal of the season tonight. The Dolphins have now won both matches in which the defender has found the back of the net.
- NJIT fired off 18 shots and tied its season-high with 11 corner kicks. The Highlanders conclude their first season in the ASUN with a 8-6-4 record.