No. 22 ranked North Florida (8-3-2 overall, 4-0-1 ASUN) closed its regular season home schedule with a 1-1 tie against the NJIT Highlanders (7-5-4 overall, 3-2-1 ASUN) on Wednesday afternoon at Hodges Stadium.
In the first half, UNF battled to score its only goal of the game. A tie or win would have clinched the Ospreys a share of the ASUN regular season championship, as well as home field advantage for the second season in a row.
This was the first time the teams competed head to head in conference play since the arrival of the Highlanders in the ASUN a season ago.
Late in the half, freshman midfielder Mike Connell was fouled, earning the Ospreys a free kick. Ospreys’ junior midfielder Micah Smoak took the free kick and scored to give UNF the early 1-0 lead in the 38th minute.
By the end of the first period, UNF held a 5-2 shot advantage over NJIT, with two being shots on goal.
Head coach Derek Marintaos credited the Highlanders’ defense for their physical play.
“They defended well. I think we made the game hard for ourselves,” Marintaos said. “Harder than it needed to be especially in the first half.”
NJIT got back into the game in the second half thanks to a 5-2 shot advantage. With only 8:49 left in regulation, NJIT’s Juan Zapata tied up the match with an assist from teammate Phillip Costa, sending the game into overtime.
The Highlanders went into extra minutes with an overtime record of 0-2-3 compared to UNF’s 2-0-1 for the 2016 season.
For the first overtime, the only shot from North Florida was blocked, pushing the match into the second and final set of extra minutes.
Neither team could create a second goal, leaving the game a 1-1 tie. At the end of the match, UNF outshot NJIT eight to seven. There was 38 combined fouls when the clock hit double zero. Nine yellow cards were issued for the match, and UNF had nine corner kicks to three from NJIT.
Marintaos spoke on what the team could have done differently.
“I think we got the goal in the first half to win it and to win the conference,” Marintaos said. “and I just thought we lack urgency. We didn’t manage the game as well as we could have as far as keeping the ball and wanting to finish it off.”
North Florida must win its last game to earn the first seed in the ASUN Tournament.
Next, the Ospreys head on the road to face USC Upstate for the regular season finale at 7 p.m.
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