Excited, confident and prepared, the Gannon University men’s soccer team ignited the crowd in the Homecoming matchup against PSAC rival Shippensburg University Saturday and came away with a 2-1 triumph at McConnell Family Stadium.
The hot Knights, who travel to Slippery Rock to take on The Rock at 4 p.m. Wednesday, have won four straight and six of their last seven to improve to 7-2-1 overall and 3-1-1 in PSAC play.
In the process, Gannon has gained the nation’s attention, coming in ranked 19th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) top 25 rankings.
Much like last month, the Knights began the month of October relying on their strong, goal-scoring senior attackman Hamza Mourchid, who tallied two more times to increase his NCAA Division II-leading total to 15 on the season.
Mourchid has now scored in six straight games and he’s scored in eight of the 10 games the Knights have played this season.
Gannon entered this match with stout defensive play in the first half but just like most of the games so far this season, the opposition got the jump.
This time, Colton Arnold of Shippensburg ripped one into the back of the net in the 70th minute, putting the Raiders up, 1-0.It didn’t take long for the Knights to respond. Only a minute after Arnold’s goal, Mourchid was taken down inside the box, giving him the opportunity for a penalty kick.
At this point, the penalty kicks are automatic for Mourchid, and he lifted his team into a 1-1 tie.
Gannon coach Dale White said he’s been impressed with his team’s mental toughness so far on the season.
“Obviously my job is to figure out why we keep going behind,” he said, “but then again I would rather be coming from behind and winning than losing or tying.”
As the game continued, the offense was relentless on the attack, pounding the Shippensburg defense with shot after shot. The Knights outshot the Raiders, 10-4, in the evening matchup.
“In all but one of the games we have dominated statistically,” White said. “The players know if they keep doing the right things the chances are we will score goals.”
After Mourchid’s tying goal, the game became more and more chippy. Just three minutes after the goal, Garret Watson, the Raiders’ goalie, was flagged with a red card and Shippensburg was forced to play a man down for the rest of the game.
Still tied 1-1, the Knights looked to capitalize upon the opportunity and the Raiders’ mistake. Mourchid led the offensive attack, launching shot after shot at the Raiders’ backup goalie, Matt Harder.
In the 85th minute, Mourchid was taken down in the box a second time, and was able to send a shot past Harder to give the Knights what proved to be the game-winning goal.
White said that although Mourchid is playing well, he’s not on his own out there.
“Hamza [Mourchid] needs leadership like the rest of us,” White said. “He needs direction, encouragement, pruning so he grows in the right direction.
“Our assistant coach, Billy Colton, was a forward like Hamza and we talk about when is the right time to encourage him, when is the right time to leave him to his own devices and when to correct him.”
Following Wednesday’s game at Slippery Rock, the Knights will host Seton Hill at 3 p.m. Saturday at McConnell Family Stadium.