By Tomas Rodriguez
Gabe Robinson took a couple of steps back behind the sideline. He threw the ball in toward the opposition’s penalty box, hoping to find an open teammate.
Defender Patrick Hickman deflected the ball with his head. It found freshman defender Samuel Dadzie, who was open. He headed the ball past UC Riverside goalie Vincent Morales to give the Matadors their first South Division title in the Big West since 2012 and second overall in school history.
“I have a lot of influence from my team because [of] my height,” Dadzie said postgame. “My coaches always yell at me to use my head on the ball.”
Coming into the game CSUN was undefeated at home, sitting on top of the South Division standings by one point with just one game left to play in the season. Second place Cal State Fullerton was playing simultaneously at Irvine against the Anteaters.
UCR outshot the Matadors in the first half 7-1. Senior Goalie Kevin Marquez had two saves in the half including a header from Highlander James Alewine III that bounced of the crossbar.
The Matadors were held to just one shot. They looked out of rhythm, but in the 28th minute, forward Papi Diouf was tackled in the opponent’s penalty box.
The referee Kyle Kazmer initially awarded the Matadors with a penalty kick, but after a brief conversation with the assistant referee Magic Berenji on the sideline, he reversed the call and gave Diouf a yellow card for diving.
Irritated by the call, he had a heated argument with the referee. Diouf was eventually subbed off to cool him down.
“I was so mad,” Diouf said. “It happens sometimes you know, its soccer. I was mad that he still gave me the yellow card.”
Despite the controversial call, the Matadors found a response in the second half. They had 3 shots on goal forcing the UCR keeper to 3 saves. With another goal-less half, the team headed into overtime with penalties on the loom.
Entering overtime, Marquez had not seen too much action. UCR had no shots on goal in the second half. It was the players from both teams that were in the duel, sharing 30 fouls between the two.
In the first minute of overtime, CSUN was awarded with the ball out of bounds in the Highlander side of the field. Just as he was doing all game, Robinson threw a long ball inside the penalty box.
Hickman headed the ball back to Dadzie for the golden goal winner. The bench cleared and the players ran toward Dadzie celebrating with the home crowd. The crowd jumped and roared after the emotional finish.
“My heart is still pounding,” Dadzie said. “We worked all season. Since preseason and through all the year, the tough times. We really deserve this. It comes down to everyone on the team and everyone has put in work.”
CSUN will host the semi-final game at Matador Soccer Field on Nov. 9. The winner between Sacramento State and UC Riverside will travel to the San Fernando Valley. They finished second in the North and third in the South, respectively.
Fullerton will host UC Davis in search of back to back runs for the Big West Championship. The Matadors won the Big West tournament the last time they won the South Division.
Before the game, parents and family members walked with the players to midfield. CSUN honored its seniors in what could have been their last home game of the season (the Matadors would have finished in the third place and would have started the playoffs on the road every game.)
Seniors Richard Martinez Shane Steffes, Shane Robinson, Patrick Hickman, Marquez and Juan Samayoa were honored before the game.
Marquez finished the season with 89 saves, second overall in the conference. Playing in every second of the season, he finished among the top categories in NCAA Division I Leaders.
“We were getting hyped before the game,” Marquez said. “Tonight was special because its senior night and our family is here and there is a lot going on off the field. We were just trying keep that away and stay focused on the game.”
CSUN head coach Terry Davila kept pace with UCR the entire game. With a loss they could’ve still had a chance into the playoffs, but they controlled their destiny.
“It was probably the hardest run through a league that we ever had,” Davila said. “We had to grind out every victory, it’s a testament to how competitive our league is. We beat a good team tonight and anytime you can hold up hardware, it’s a good thing and we are very proud of it.”
The Matadors host their next game in 10 days.
“It’s going to be a big factor,” Marquez said. “A lot of us are tired. We are going to have a week and a half off. Hopefully we can get our legs back and be fresh.”