All of the pregame metrics pointed to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round matchup between No. 25 Menlo College and No. 12 Corban being an epic showdown. Saturday's clash certainly did not disappoint.
In front of a large crowd of 753 people at Sparks Field on the campus of Willamette University, the Oaks and Warriors tangled into a physical and tactical back and forth affair that saw both squads control the run of play for substantial periods of time. The stats were virtually identical at the end of the first 45 minutes and the score showed that as it was a scoreless tie at the half.
Corban punched its ticket to the final site of the NAIA National Championships, Del Ray Beach, Florida and improved to 20-2 on the campaign.
Menlo came out of the gate firing in the first half as Luis Nunez had two shots sail wide in the first 2 minutes and 15 seconds of action. Nearly two minutes later, the Oaks had arguably their best look of the entire game when David Beary ripped at shot that was saved by stellar keeper Jordan Farr.
Corban controlled the pace much of the middle portion of the half before Menlo finished the period by putting the Warriors on their heels multiple times. When the dust settled the stats were virtually identical with Menlo taking six shots and Corban adding five.
The second half started out with a very similar feel. The rain was intermittent on a relatively overcast day but Menlo saw a glimmer of sunshine in its play to start the second stanza. In the first 10 minutes of the half Menlo got a pair of shots off and earned three corner kick tries and it seemed as though they were close to a breakthrough. However, stellar keeping and a stingy back line from Corban kept the ball out of the back of the net and allowed the Warriors to regroup. Regroup they did as they took over for the next nearly 20 minutes of action and had some great runs at the Menlo defense.
On multiple occasions the Oaks' backline held strong and included a pair of stellar tackles from sophomore Alex Avila but it was the third major run that hit pay dirt for the Warriors.
Corban's best player, Timur Zhividze wiggled his way past a pair of defenders and created 1-on-1 situation with keeper Alex Coates-McDowall.
The leading scorer for the Warriors did not squander the opportunity and poked one over Coates-McDowall in the top right corner of the net for what would be the game winner.
Menlo had one last ditch effort with 30 seconds remaining when a foul was drawn just out in front of the box. Senior Ryan Onizuka delivered a ball that cleanly got through the block but was saved by the Corban keeper.
It was a season of firsts for Menlo, which earned its first ever NAIA top-25 ranking, won the most games in program history, was the fastest team to 10 wins in program history and accumulated a host of individual awards won and records broken.