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Notes from Morrison Stadium: #2 Creighton vs. Northern Illinois

My apologies, first of all, for being delinquent in writing a preview for yesterday’s game. Part of that was due to the haze of excitement that overtook me leading up to the NCAA Tournament. Another part was due to my total ignorance about the opponent, Northern Illinois, besides what I’d seen in their first-round match against Western Illinois. NIU looked dominant in that match, but it was difficult to say if NIU had a good day or WIU had a bad one.

And so it was especially exciting to see Creighton throttle Northern Illinois, 3-0, in front of 2,033 other fans who braved the 20-degree wind chill. My MVP Award of the Day (brought to you by Folgers™) goes to the Heat-ray Beams in the west concourse, which saved at least five hundred extremities from frostbite, by my count.

The Bluejays looked like they were putting on a clinic for the visitors, as if NIU had wandered onto the field as a part of some charity event. The domination started early and never really subsided, to the point where I actually started to feel a little sympathy for the Huskies, who were probably very cold and just wanted to get back on the bus. The first goal of the afternoon came only twenty minutes in, when Bluejay right back Eric Miller sent an arcing ball across the goal to Jose Gomez, who one-timed it into the lower-left corner.

As I was the first media source to report, both Creighton outside backs–Eric Miller and Tyler Polak–have had increasing roles in building the Bluejay attack over the last few weeks. The pair’s ability to carry the ball up the wing and send a crossing ball opens up the field so midfielders have opportunities to make runs off the ball, which in turn frees up the forwards to make runs at the goal. This is precisely what caused the first goal, as Miller held the ball on the right wing about thirty yards out, sent a cross to the back post, where Gomez was waiting to volley it to the near post. It was a montage-worthy goal if I ever saw one. A true golazo, if I may, from Creighton’s #10.

I don’t remember the details of the second goal (sorry!) other than that it resulted from an assist by Greg Jordan, who had a noteworthy game. He was a strong, physical presence in the midfield when NIU relied mainly on speed and physicality to challenge for the ball. Jordan has a bit of a temper and has been known to get revenge after being taken down (see his yellow card against Bradley when he was knocked down on the ball, then ran half the field to blatantly hit the guy back). Yesterday’s game got out of the referee’s control, and nobody would have blamed Jordan for wanting to retaliate on a number of tackles. He kept his composure, to the benefit of the home team. Greg Jordan was a Michael Bradley-esque figure for the Bluejays in this one, outworking the other side and showing grit and character in the process. Jordan also deserves applause for running to help an injured NIU player off the field, who needed more help walking off than the visitors’ lone medical trainer could give. It was a display of character and sportsmanship that made me proud to be part of the Creighton community.

The Blues’ third and final goal was just as pretty as the first, coming just a few minutes before the final whistle. Bruno Castro, who saw loads of playing time, sent a corner kick that looped past the far post and looked headed out of bounds. Jake Brown was in the right spot and headed it (actually from past the touchline, I believe) back toward the middle, where Ethan Finlay elevated for the header and his second goal of the night. Every part of the play was a joy to watch.

Directly after the third goal, the Northern Illinois goalkeeper tossed the ball right at the head of Creighton forward Kris Clark, who was running past to celebrate with his team. The throw may have been accidental, but the keeper did nothing to indicate that, trying instead to look as macho as a 6-2, 170 lb. kid can be. Clark spun around to speak his mind, and soon both teams were embroiled in a scuffle. No punches were thrown, of course, but tempers flared as both sides ran over to help. Maybe it’s worth noting that NIU’s center back, Rocco Taglia, had his hand on Clark’s throat for a long time. To me, there’s a lot wrong with that, and I hope somebody in the NCAA office is watching the tape.

The center referee gave no cards or warnings for that incident, which reflects the kind of outing he had. He let the game get out of hand early as the Huskies did their best Bash Brothers impression. One goal by Ethan Finlay that was called back on a particularly dubious offside ruling. The referee kept the game close by breaking up the rhythm of the game, and I’m convinced the Bluejays could have had another pair of goals with another officiating crew.

The visitors’ back line was especially suspect, though they were one of the bigger and stronger defenses the Jays have faced at home this season. I imagine travel, fatigue, and weather all played a role in the NIU defense’s poor showing this weekend. You’ll want to keep an eye on Isaac Kannah, a freshman midfielder for the Huskies, who played against Eric Miller for the majority of the afternoon. He exhibited tremendous speed and phenomenal touch on the ball, but he didn’t have the supporting cast to create anything special. With a couple years’ experience, Kannah could be a very special player. Creighton was able to shut him and his teammates down today, though, allowing only one shot on goal from NIU in the game.

The Bluejays face #15 UC-Santa Barbara in the Round of 16 next Sunday at 1 pm at Morrison Stadium.

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