GEORGETOWN, Texas – For 110 minutes, the Southwestern University Pirates men's soccer team stayed in constant motion, flying across the field to stop the Trinity University Tigers at every turn.
Throughout a physical championship match with a combined 39 fouls and six yellow cards (four for Trinity, two for Southwestern), the Pirates repeatedly picked themselves up off the pitch and threw themselves back into the fray; exhausting their own reserves and drawing on the crowd's energy to carry on.
"It was an awesome environment," Head Coach Dustin Norman said. "I don't know if, with the third game in three days, that we could have survived that long without the energy from the fans and our other athletic teams showing up."
By the end of a complete team performance, only the still, one-on-one nature of a penalty shootout could bring the Pirates to a halt and give Trinity the 2018 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Championship with a 4-2 shootout victory.
"It's just [a] gut-wrenching [loss]. The guys battled for a third day in a row," Norman said. "The defense was stellar, as usual and Alan Carr was absolutely phenomenal. The only goal we gave up the entire tournament was on a penalty kick.
"This was a tough way to go but we earned the opportunity and that's what I'm proud of."
Trinity entered the match boasting the sixth highest scoring offense in NCAA Division III, averaging 3.81 goals per match, scoring 25 more goals than the next highest school in the SCAC. Southwestern was able to muddle Trinity's passing attack, bringing extra bodies to the ball with both teams exchanging shoulder tackles.
Corner kicks and set pieces out of throw-ins from the sidelines lead to mosh pits in front of the net to be entered at one's own peril, with clutching and grabbing giving way to collisions as the referees let both teams play through it early.
Near the 22-minute mark, a Southwestern and Trinity player made contact going for a pass, with the biggest difference between that moment and any other number of collisions was it being committed in open space, near the goal, drawing a penalty kick converted by Brady Johnston, scoring the only goal against Carr in the entire tournament.
Trinity outshot Southwestern 8-4 in the first half with Carr stopping five for the Pirates. Southwestern committed nine fouls in the first half, giving Trinity a few free kicks from dangerous areas.
Instead of letting frustrations boil over, the Pirates formed a yellow wall around their own goal, clearing every threat and beating the Tigers to their preferred spots, keeping Trinity at bay.
"It's been unreal to see the growth of this group of young men and see the way they've come together and started battling," Norman said. "There's been drastic improvement in all areas. They care. They care about each other, they care about their academics, they care about the program."
That pride helped the Pirates dig deep, pushing Trinity into a style it didn't want to play and drawing yellow cards in tense moments. In the bleakest times, they implored the crowd to rise to their feet; creating a positive feedback loop in which the crowd pushed the players, who made plays that pushed the crowd in a seemingly endless cycle.
The effects were palpable, observed through Alex Newell aerial challenge on 50-50 balls, Colin Maloney knifing his way across the field with a well-placed slide tackle, or Garrison Van Houten stopping the Tigers cold in the corners and ending Trinity's opportunities in open space.
Southwestern moved the ball through opportunistic direct passes and long runs, or winning long sideline passes to force another and march their way up the field.
"It's the commitment to doing the little things and executing when we had the opportunity," Norman said. "Creating moments in the game to strike."
Those moments seemed few and far in between at times. And when they happened, Trinity goalie Blake Lieberman was able to make big saves, notably materializing from nowhere to get a hand on a clean look from senior Alex Newell's header off a corner kick.
Still, the Pirates created moments and were finally able to capitalize in the final two minutes of regulation, drawing a Trinity handball in the box to setup Jake Swonke's equalizer goal off a penalty kick.
The Tigers got three shots in overtime but the Pirates turned each away, shutting the Tigers down as a team until the shootout rules broke both teams down into their individual parts where Trinity took the match.
With its strong tournament showing, the Pirates finish the season 12-5-3, improving on last season's record by five wins, setting a strong foundation moving forward, and sending its seniors off on a strong note.
"Hats off to our seniors," Norman said. "They really set the bar high and hopefully this is something we can build on next year."