For the first 35 minutes of play against Villanova on Saturday night, it looked as if an upset was brewing at Corbett Soccer Stadium. An unranked Villanova squad had a 1-0 lead over No. 8 USF (11-2-2, 6-0-1) by playing a dominating game on both sides of the ball and had the Bulls on their heels.
Villanova took advantage in the 17th minute, when Oscar Umar simply passed the corner kick to a waiting Kevin Garcia, who drove the ball into the box and finished past Chris Blais for a 1-0 lead early in the game.
“I really respect what Villanova did,” said head coach George Kiefer. “They played hard and managed to hold that 1-0 lead for a while.”
Yet it would be the Bulls who would take over in the second half.
A strong 10-minute stretch to end the first half was what USF needed to snap back into form. Though they didn’t get a goal in the final 10 minutes, the Bulls fired a series of shots to put enough pressure on Wildcats goalkeeper John Fogarty to set the tone for the second half.
“I thought we might have been able to get one back in the first half, actually,” Kiefer said. “I was happy with the way they stayed calm. They’re starting to show some maturity, not showing panic after going down by a goal.”
Just like for Villanova, it was a corner kick that got the Bulls going in the second half. In the 50th minute, sophomore Ben Sweat took a corner from the right side and put it right in the middle of the box, where it was met by the head of junior Dom Dwyer, who finished for his Big East-leading 14th goal of the season.
The Bulls pulled ahead 21 minutes later, thanks to the effort of a couple of defensive forwards. After a pass inside by junior midfielder Morten Benestad, junior defender Ashani Fairclough attempted a bicycle kick. This set up a wide open look at the net for junior Brenton Griffiths, who gave the Bulls the 2-1 lead in what would prove to be the final margin.
The celebration, however, was slightly muted by an injury to Fairclough, who appeared to have been hit on the head and lay motionless for about three minutes before trainers helped him sit up. They eventually took him off the field, where they conducted vision and balance tests.
“With the way that medicine is these days, it seems like Ashani will be alright,” Kiefer said. “We’ll get him checked up.”
USF managed to prevent any legitimate threats from the Wildcats in the second half and won 2-1 for their sixth consecutive win, keeping them undefeated in Big East play. The Bulls are 8-0-1 in their last nine games, and haven’t lost since Sept. 16.
The Bulls return to the field Wednesday night for a game against Cincinnati. It will be the last regular-season home game of the year. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30.