#4 Zips Win MAC Semi-Final over West Virginia 3-2; Face Buffalo in MAC Title Game Sunday

On a blustery and snowy Akron evening, the #4 Akron Zips (14-3-2, 5-0-1 MAC) eliminated the West Virginia Mountaineers (7-12-0, 2-4-0 MAC) 3-2. Akron, entering the MAC Tournament as the top seed, will face Buffalo on Sunday for the MAC title, their fourth straight year to play for the title.

“I think we played well tonight. They were playing for their lives and they dumped a lot of balls in,” Akron head coach Jared Embick said of his team’s win. “It got chaotic and we didn’t handle to situations in front of the goal. But for the most part, we played well. ”

Akron were aided by goals from an Adam Najem free kick, and two second-half goals from Stuart Holthusen. West Virginia got goals from Jamie Merriam and an Akron own goal.

In late October, the Zips beat West Virginia 2-0 away during the MAC regular season.

Akron started their scoring at the 22:37 mark of the first half. Holthusen was played a long ball that he beat out the West Virginia defense. Mountaineers’ goal keeper Alec Boerner was the last man to beat and tripped up Holthusen as he steamed towards the net. Boerner fouled the Akron attacker, just outside of the box (left of middle), and Boerner was handed a yellow card. On the ensuing free kick, Adam Najem stepped up to the ball and rocketed the right-footed shot into the top right corner of the net. Akron led 1-0 early and continued to possess the ball throughout the half.

“We knew we had to score the first goal to get control of the game,” the goal scorer said.

The Zips headed into the break ahead, 1-0, but West Virginia led the shots on goal 4-2 and also had three yellow cards to their name. Not to mention, the visitors had 14 fouls to their name, just at the half.

Just under five minutes into the half, Holthusen got his first goal, as he beat Boerner. With West Virginia pressing the Akron net, Zips forced an early goal kick. Zips goalie Jake Fenlason kicked a long ball (against the wind), was collected by Adam Najem, who put forward the perfect lob pass. It looked like Boerner couldn’t decide to come and get the lob, so he retreated towards the net and Holthusen beat the defender as Stuart was able to beat Boerner one-on-one with his right foot. Akron had expanded their lead early in the half and led 2-0.

“We talked about dig some balls out and play really well,” the coach added. “With West Virginia playing higher, if we can get past the midfield, and get to them that was ideal. For us it was a crucial play at the time.”

Notably, Najem was fouled rather severely and took a long time to get up with 22:24 left in the match.

After he was substituted, West Virginia came back and put a header into the net. It was Akron’s inability to clear the ball that hurt them, as it bounced off an Akron head. The 2-1 score line would not last long, as the ensuing kickoff would see Akron run down the field and Holthusen scored his second of the night, just five seconds after the West Virginia goal. Akron regained their two goal lead, with a 3-1 score line with 22:07 left in the match.

“It’s great to play with lots of players that can spark something at any time,” he added. “I feel that other teams have to watch that and they did not do that tonight. We can’t sit back on these teams and we have to keep pushing and pressing and focus on Sunday.”

West Virginia would not let the Zips dictate the game, as they cut the Zips lead to 3-2 with 18:43 left in the match. Inside the 18-yard box, Akron could not clear the ball, and West Virginia was able to collect their second of the night. First, Mike Desiderio had his shot that deflected right to the feet of Jamie Merriam, who put the ball in the back of the net. It is his goal seventh of the year, which is a team high and gave the Mountaineers a chance to equalize the match at 3-2.

“I think they got some momentum at that time and to score the goal quickly after they did, was key,” said Holthusen.

Buffalo defeated Western Michigan 2-1 in overtime earlier in the evening at First Energy Stadium-Cub Cadet Field in the other semi-final match. Therefore, Akron will face Buffalo on Sunday, November 15 for the 2015 Mid-American Conference title.