A whopping 26 fouls were committed in Monday night’s hostile match between The [3/4] University of Denver Pioneers and the [16/18] University of Akron Zips on Monday, Aug. 28. The Pioneers rose victorious in the grueling match extending their regular season unbeaten streak to 37 games.
Denver (2-0-0, 0-0-0 Summit League) edged Akron (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Mid American Conference) a historically elite program, with a score of 1-0.
“You find out who your leaders are in moments of controversy and challenge,” Head coach Jamie Franks said. “There was a lot of adversity tonight and to watch guys like Alex Underwood, Graham Smith, Scott DeVoss, Andre Shinyashiki, to watch those guys lead is a great sign for my team. The match was chippy sure, but I thought we were in control for most of the match.”
Approximately 32 minutes into the first-half, senior outside back AJ Fuller left the field with an injury. Swedish freshman Jacob Stensson replaced him and finished out the match. Stensson rose to the occasion in the backline and was critical in denying a few of the Zips’ chances.
“I just had to jump into the game, fill the position that AJ left. It was all in or nothing,” Stensson said. “We knew it was coming [Akron’s counterattack], especially when we scored just before the first half. We knew we had to close the game and that Akron is a very good possession team. It was just hard work.”
Stensson’s transition to the United States hasn’t been the easiest, but his performance on the pitch tonight confirmed DU’s extensive depth coming off the bench.
“It looked like he was up for the challenge,” Franks said. “He’s been lacking a little bit of confidence a little bit of self-doubt, but he just moved here to a new culture from a new country, he’s still getting accustomed to things. For us that’s the best he’s played and I’m excited for his future.”
With 11 fouls administered between both teams in just the opening half, the chippy play provided a scoring opportunity for Denver to cash in on via penalty kick. Redshirt junior Jacob Hanlin challenged Akron goalie Ben Lundt on a bouncing breakaway. Lundt missed the ball and collided with Hanlin earning himself a yellow card and a penalty kick for the Pioneers. With just 21 seconds on the clock, senior captain Graham Smith placed his shot in the lower right corner to put DU on the board first.
“I just think we had confidence in our defensive shape. That’s a team that has a lot of talented, skilled players,” Smith said. “We knew how they were going to play, we knew we weren’t going to have a lot of the ball so if we could get one early and kind of stick to what wins games early on we knew we’d have a good night.”
The second-half’s intensities only escalated as four yellow cards were distributed, three to the Zips and one issued to Pioneers. Despite the heightened aggression, Denver maintained its composure.
The Zips gained momentum throughout the final 20 minutes, pulsating the match’s rhythm with a 9-5 shot advantage. Generating opportunities on frame, extraordinary efforts from Denver’s defensive unit and trackers denied Akron any scoring success.
“From an outside perspective I can see how that would rattle most teams if they were under pressure for most of the second half,” Smith said. “In our team we have a lot of confidence in our defending, that we’re going to get numbers in front of the goal and block some shots. We have a lot of composure when we’re almost on our heels, but we take a lot of pride in that. We like it.”
Up next DU continues its four-game homestand welcoming Furman University to the Mile High city on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m.