photo courtesy of John Babiak
The storied battle between the University of Denver Men’s Pioneers and the University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks was magnified to on Saturday, Oct. 28. The familiar opponents clashed on CIBER Field as the Pioneers’ fought for their fourth consecutive conference title.
With 16 seconds on the clock, junior forward Andre Shinyashiki scored his ninth goal of the campaign to send the exhilarating match into extra time. Freshman outside back Jacob Stensson raced down the right flank and sent a cross to Shinyashiki who was positioned near center frame. Shinyashiki redirected his header towards the back door and hit the back post to equalize the score one apiece.
“16 seconds left against our biggest rival, it was great that I could help the team,” Shinyashiki said. “I was the guy who missed the missed the man on their goal so I really felt like I needed to do that.”
In the first frame of extra time the Pioneers carried over their momentum and intensity. One of Omaha’s defender was assessed with a hand ball in the penalty box, awarding the Pioneers with a penalty kick with 2:06 on the clock. Senior captain Graham Smith took the penalty, positioning his shot in the lower left corner to secure the OT victory.
“For us, a huge point was to not get frustrated and to be resilient and make sure to continue to up-the-tempo,” Head coach Jamie Franks said. “For me, my team grew up tonight and I’m super proud of them on senior night, for those guys, I think it was Alex Underwood said, ‘We’re not going to lose this game.’ We’ve been missing that all season. That sort of confidence, that sort of demand from each other, I’m glad that we found it now. When we do that we’re a tough team to beat.”
Omaha (8-4-2, 1-0-2 Summit League) was the first to get on the board off of a long-throw in. Center-back Seth Rinderknecht threw the ball from the flank to the Denver’s six-yard line. The center was deflected and immediately redirected by a one-time strike from forward Emmanuel Hamzat whose low-drive beat DU goalie Nick Gardner.
The Pioneers displayed resilience to the goal, applying immense pressure towards Omaha’s attacking third which ultimately led to Shinyashiki’s goal.
The Summit League rivals have met in comparable circumstances, last season the Pioneers clinched their fourth-straight conference title where Shinyashiki scored a brace in DU’s 2-1 victory over the Mavericks on Nov. 11.
“It’s an opponent like any other, we approach the game the same but there’s a special feeling against them because they’ve been our conference rivals and there’s always that little bit an extra feeling,” Shinyashiki said.
DU’s momentum amplified in the final third of the first half as the Pioneers began to control possession. Denver held an 8-2 shot on goal edge over Omaha. The Pioneers posted a dangerous chance on net in the 29th minute on a combination play between Elder and junior forward Andre Shinyashiki. Elder passed to Shinyashiki from outside the 18-yard box before wrapping his run around the Mavericks’ backline. Shinyashiki knavishly heeled the ball past Omaha defender to a wide-open Elder, whose one-timer was sent just wide.
Intensity didn’t falter between the friendly foes as 27 fouls were distributed between teams, 14 in the first half alone. Denver freshman midfielder Destan Norman was the only player of those 14 fouls to receive a yellow card. In the 27th minute, Norman was booked a yellow for tripping from behind.
Prior to kickoff Denver’s 2017 senior class was honored as; forward Blake Elder, centerback Kortne Ford, outside back AJ Fuller and senior captains midfielder Graham Smith and midfielder Alex Underwood were recognized for their contributions to the program in their tenure. Collectively, the 2017 senior class has led the program to its first College Cup appearance in program history, contributed to the 2015-16 back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, three-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and three-straight Summit regular season and tournament titles.
“For these guys to have 54 wins (54-16-8), two or three gold vest community service awards, the top gpa the past two years, the Final Four, two-straight undefeated seasons, three conference championships, three tournament conference championships, every year in the NCAA tournament. It’s just special,” Franks said. “It’s just special. These kids come here to Denver to leave their mark on the program and that’s exactly what they’ve done.”
Denver travels to Western Illinois University (5-8-0, 3-1) for the final match of the regular season on Nov. 4, at 11 a.m. MT. The Pioneers must beat or tie Western Illinois in order to clinch the regular season title.