By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
Looking to move up in the Southwest Soccer Conference, Eastern New Mexico University didn’t quite get the result it wanted on Friday.
Still, a tie is always better than a loss.
Facing the team directly ahead of them in the standings, the Greyhounds scored twice in a span of 2 1/2 minutes midway through the first half. But Northeastern State’s Sean Hughes tallied a pair of unassisted goals and the teams battled to a 2-2 standoff through two overtimes at the ENMU pitch.
With no conference tournament this year, neither team is going on to the postseason. But the third-place RiverHawks (5-8-2, 1-2-2 SSC) and the fourth-place Hounds (6-8-1, 1-4-1) are trying to finish as high as they can in the five-team league.
“We had our opportunities,” ENMU senior forward Ryan Atkinson said. “We were a little unlucky on some of them, but we fought well today.”
ENMU faces last-place Missouri Southern (3-8-2, 0-4-1) in Sunday’s 1 p.m. home finale.
The Hounds, seeking the first win over Northeastern in their program’s four-year history (0-6-2), struck quickly midway through the first half when senior defender Donnell Jackson ran down a long pass to the left side and beat RiverHawks goalkeeper Ransone Rose at the 22:35 mark. That was followed by sophomore midfielder Stephen Alicandro’s first goal of the season, on a cross from freshman Edgar Bear.
“I knew the game was going to be like this,” ENMU coach Carlos Elizondo said. “What I’m happy about is the guys played (hard) the whole game. I felt everybody contributed and did their job.”
Hughes’ first goal came from point-blank range on a deflection off the hands of ENMU keeper Leif Craddock with about 12 minutes left in the half. That gave the RiverHawks some life.
“We stopped playing for about five minutes and gave up two goals,” Northeastern coach Bobby Peterson said. “Then we got one back, which was good.
“I’m proud of my guys (for coming back). We were down 2-0 and had opportunities to quit.”
Hughes tied it with his sixth goal of the season after a flurry of activity in front of the ENMU net. At the time, it didn’t look like that would be the end of the scoring.
The match ended with ENMU trying feverishly to get a shot in as the second 10-minute OT ran out.
“It went back and forth,” Atkinson said. “We were pretty even in shots on goal, but it was a good match. I think it showed our character.”
Elizondo is looking for the same kind of effort against Missouri Southern.
“Missouri Southern always plays us tough here,” he said. “I expect they’ll take it to us.”
Sunday’s match will be the final one at home for five ENMU seniors, all original members of the program.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s over already,” Atkinson said.